Seeking solutions: #GunCrisis roundtable with the Philadelphia City Council

Philadelphia City Councilmen, from left, Bill Greenlee, Curtis Jones and Kenyatta Johnson speak with the press at the #GunCrisis roundtable on solutions Tuesday at Philadelphia City Hall. All photos by GunCrisis staffer Tom Kelly IV.

The GunCrisis.org reporting team was honored with the opportunity to lead a roundtable discussion with the Philadelphia City Council yesterday.

We set out to illuminate multiple perspectives on the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia, put forth some possible steps to reducing violence — and discussed how we think the #GunCrisis project can help.

We also reflected on the roots and transformation of GunCrisis.org, which amounts to a pretty good status update as well.

GunCrisis project co-founders Jim MacMillan and Joe Kaczmarek discuss gun violence on the streets of Philadelphia.

So, what is GunCrisis.org? We are a non-profit, open-source, solutions-oriented reporting community.

We strive to paint a clear picture of gun violence in Philadelphia, combined with actionable solutions, while building a network of people and organizations who are prepared to intervene.

We understand that epidemic gun violence will not endure forever, and so we want to expedite the transformation to a more peaceful Philadelphia.

The catalyst that inspired our launch was a symposium on youth violence reporting, led by the Dart Center for Journalism and Traumaat Columbia University, and convened at WHYY here in Philadelphia last fall.

The group convened in the City Council Caucus Chamber.

While GunCrisis will support any effective and just measures to reduce gun violence, those of us at the conference were particularly impressed by public health strategies introduced by Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist and director of CeaseFire Chicago.

Slutkin asserts that violent behavior is an epidemic — and that this is good news because public health practitioners know how to respond — by isolating the problem, disrupting the transmission, and by educating communities to change behavior.

Previous vast public health transformations in the U.S. include decreased smoking and drunk driving, better safe sex practices, seat belt use and more.

These successes lead us to consider strategically avoiding the greater maelstrom of social challenges and simply ask: What if we can just stop the killing?

At the conference, we also watched “The Interrupters,” an award-winning documentary on the CeaseFire model in Chicago, which we consider required viewing for anyone concerned with youth violence.

Councilman Jones speaks as MacMillan, Kaczmarek and Tara Murtha of the GunCrisis team look on.

When I launched GunCrisis.org, I was planning to produce a documentary, something like “The Interrupters” for Philadelphia, maybe even riding on the coattails of their publicity.

However, more volunteers started jumping onboard at various levels and we realized that we had met an unserved need, to build a hub and a caring community focusing on solutions to this crisis.

Our key players bring decades of Philadelphia reporting experience and hold hundreds of awards, including four Distinguished Journalist honors from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

Now, I spend most of my time on organizational development, site editing and project management. The documentary is on the back burner but not forgotten.

Both groups shared ideas and experiences.

Next, we took a look at the scope of the epidemic.

Nearly 10,000 people have been murdered in Philadelphia over the last 25 years. In more than 75 percent of the cases, they were killed with guns, and at higher rates in more recent years.

At least 42 people had been shot in Philadelphia in the 12 days between the recent mass murder in Colorado and our meeting yesterday.

At least five of the victims had died and others were hospitalized in critical condition.

Nationally, more than a million people have been shot to death in the USover the last 50 years.

More than 300,000 guns remain in private hands. American citizens are 400 times more likely to be murdered than in Great Britain, and young African American men in urban centers face 200 times that risk.

GunCrisis intern Aaron Moser discusses the economic toll of violence in Philadelphia.

Next, GunCrisis photojournalist Joe Kaczmarek presented photos from the many shooting scenes he has covered since we launched last spring.

Tara Murtha of GunCrisis and the Philadelphia Weekly discussed her plan to organize a program bridging the communication gap between distressed and/or under-covered Philadelphia neighborhoods and the media organizations that report on them, by training select community reps in the basics of PR and connecting them with local editors and reporters.

GunCrisis intern Peak Johnson, a Temple University journalism student from North Philadelphia, bravely shared the story of his own father’s murder.

Intern Aaron Moser from Swarthmore College had the council members on the edge of their seats with an examination of the the devastating economic impact of violence in Philadelphia, and the outcome in human service cuts and decreased opportunities.

Overall, we are striving to organize our site as a digital hub for organizations and individuals working to reduce violence in Philadelphia, and to empower them by bringing them together, bringing them more information and bringing them to light.

We have compiled a directory of almost 30 anti-violence organizations, as a resource for those who need help — and those who can help.

Joe Kaczmarek presents photos from the project.

We look to external perspectives to break the paralysis of this ongoing trauma, disrupt the normalization of violence and highlight steps we can all take toward peace in our city.

Our journalism strategies include enhanced comprehensive contextualized reporting, advancing the disciplines of peace and conflict studies, understanding the relationship of journalism and psychological trauma, and by building community through social media journalism.

We hope to build a movement, we and look to the power of social movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Revolutions as examples where digital media have led to vast social change.

Closer to home, we saw thousands of Philadelphians mobilizefor justice in the Trayvon Martin case, and we want to enable similar mobilizations against gun violence.

We intend to avoid polarizing debates around issues such as legislation, policing and sentencing, while seeking new solutions in both research and practice. But we won’t pull any punches while covering covering news in on any aspect.

We have observed that traditional news value criteria seem to focus only on exceptional gun crimes, for instance when the victim is a police officer, a child, a bystander in the crossfire of stray bullets, a victim of mistaken identity, one caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” or when there are multiple victims.

As a result, most of the daily shooting victims and their loved ones find their stories ignored, except for anonymous reports of what happened, when and where.

Instead, GunCrisis will stop to look at the roots of the epidemic, and the chronology, and seek solutions and community engagement.

Seats were taken in every corner.

We showed the conference screen shots of live social media reports from Philadelphians reporting gunshots, grieving lost loved ones, and lamenting the conditions of living with gun violence.

We wondered why GunCrisis was the only news organization covering the recent Peace’n Philly rally at LOVE Park in central Philadelphia, where hundreds of young people came together to stand up against violence.

Altogether so far, GunCrisis has published almost 400 reports, served more than 100,000 page views and 12,000 video views.

Most of our audience is local and we can see that search terms leading visitors to our site prove that they are seeking more information. We have published almost 400 posts, balancing crime scene reporting with actionable solutions, resulting in over 100,000 page views and about 12,000 video views.

Because visitors often search for names with shooting locations, our site has become and accidental tool for identifying victims before their names are officially released. This enables us to search for loved ones who are already sharing grief online and participate with communities sharing their condolences in real time.

Also, media coverage of our endeavor has led to greater overall local coverage of the search for solutions. For example, after my appearance on Radio Times, WHYY experienced a bump of an additional million more page views than their site average and decided to organize an extended series of programs on gun violence.

MacMillan and Kaczmarek present.

Finally, we spent some time looking at what has been working in other cites. We understand that Philadelphia is different but still believe that we can learn from every successful initiative.

The Operation CeaseFire: Boston Gun Project, led by criminologist David Kennedy, led to a 60% reduction in homicides in Boston in the 1990s.

In 2005, the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, applying strategies from public health and criminology led to a 52% reduction of homicides. The Unity Consortium Roadmapat PreventionInstitute.org outlines step-by-step strategies that cities can adopt to do the same.

The UNITY RoadMap 1) helps cities understand the current status of their efforts (starting point), 2) describes the core elements necessary to prevent violence before it occurs (milestones), and 3) provides information, resources, and examples to support cities in planning, implementation, and evaluation. As a framework, the UNITY RoadMap is most effective when tailored to the needs of a particular city.

We wish to thank the Philadelphia City Council and everyone involved for this amazing and important opportunity, and we look forward to collaborating at every turn.

With leadership, strategy, coordination and the strength of our communities, we will take can steps together to extinguish epidemic violence and bring peace to the streets of Philadelphia.

Councilman Johnson and Joe Kaczmarek of the #GunCrisis project share a hug.

Please visit GunCrisis.org often, subscribe by email, Facebook, Twitter, free text alerts.

Share your stories and your ideas on how we can bring an end to the epidemic of homicide by gunfire.

Let us know how we can do better, if we can share news about your events and organizations, individual efforts, or any way in which you think we could collaborate.

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