Panel on Gun Violence and Unemployment

By Pascal Cristofalo

On August 24th, Billy Penn and Ceasefire PA hosted a community forum to discuss “How Jobs Prevent Violence.” Panelists Siddiq Moore, the owner of Siddiq’s Water Ice, Soneyet Muhammed, director of workforce development at Drexel University, and Michael Thorpe, executive director of Mt. Vernon Manor CDC, came together outside of Siddiq’s West Philly business to unpack how workforce development and the city’s $155 million anti-violence budget can be leveraged to reduce the high levels of gun violence Philadelphia is experiencing.

There have been 1,503 shooting victims in Philadelphia so far in 2021. That is 14.6% higher than this time last year, which was already 53.2% up from 2019. While unemployment rates have been steadily declining from the 19.5% high in July 2020, a recent study from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has noted that the zip codes with the highest numbers of shooting victims, home to predominantly Black and Latinx residents, have the highest levels of chronic male unemployment. The report mentions that “while poverty and unemployment are linked, we focus on chronic unemployment because studies suggest that joblessness is more strongly related to crime than poverty alone.”

Amongst the panelists, Muhammed discussed the importance of hiring local residents who can hold an organization accountable for its impact on the community in which it resides. She also noted the importance of investing in the residents one hires: “You have to be ready and have the capacity to train… And if you’re not willing to do that type of work, then you need to take a step back.”

Moore and Thorpe talked about having constructive outlets for young men’s ambitions. Small businesses hiring locally and community organizations can offer structure and an avenue for youth to invest in themselves and their futures. Thorpe noted that the presence of these organizations can serve as point of contact for communities to reach these young men and bring them into the collective.

When the conversation turned toward community organizations, a clear concern about the city’s approach took shape. While the city has allocated $155 million to anti-violence efforts, both panelists and attendees expressed concerns about the accessibility of this funding and its successful distribution to community organizations. As Moore concluded, smaller community institutions “might not have the paper trail, but they have the credibility. Their work is already being seen in the community amongst the regular people.”

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