Williams calls on Wolf to declare state of emergency over Philadelphia gun violence

Tim Jimenez
June 18, 2019 - 7:21 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia police are still looking for the killer who opened fire at a graduation and Father's Day party on Sunday. 

And after a weekend where nearly 30 people were shot in the city, there are calls for more to be done. 

State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, in whose district the shooting took place, wrote a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to declare a state of emergency in response to gun violence in Philadelphia. 

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"I am embarrassed by our lack of action," Williams wrote.

"We have a state of emergency for bad weather in Pennsylvania. We should at least have one that acknowledges human life."

Williams argued when he was running for mayor most recently that a state emergency was necessary to make a difference in parts of the city most affected by gun violence. 

He believes the state should tackle gun violence the same way it addresses the opioid crisis, by developing grants for community groups and anti-violence programs, and redirecting money from organizations that study violence to fund a crisis intervention program. 

"The level of support we've given the opioid crisis in America is the level of support as a government we should be giving to people living in these neighborhoods," he said. He wants to see an increase in the presence of temporary law enforcement in hard-hit neighborhoods as well.

Williams added that the state cannot wait to push for gun control.

"We have to affect hearts and minds, and a mentality that would suggest to you that you could pick up a gun and shoot without discrimination into a crowd of people," he said.

Wolf's press secretary J.J. Abbot responded Tuesday morning with the following statement:

"Governor Wolf strongly shares these concerns about gun violence in Philadelphia and the risk to people across Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf has worked extensively with the legislature and Philadelphia delegation to put more resources into community safety and advance commonsense gun safety bills. The violence in Philadelphia over the weekend is disturbing and horrifying. Governor Wolf agrees that more can be done and we look forward to discussing further steps with members of the Philadelphia delegation and other partners, including the Mayor, Attorney General and law enforcement. Governor Wolf is reviewing all requests made and plans to speak with the members."

Mayor Jim Kenney said he supports any and all efforts to curb gun violence in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth. The mayor points the finger at state legislature for not passing strong gun controls.

The mayor said Monday that he is "heartbroken" by the continued gun violence in the city and frustrated by what he calls easy access to guns.

"The bottom line is that you can get a gun in this city faster than you can get a library card, and apparently the federal government and the state government believe people should have unfettered access to guns," Kenney said.

The mayor said he's at a loss as to how to change the mindset of people who resort to guns to settle disagreements.

Police say someone walked into the party of about 70 people at Paschall Park in Southwest Philadelphia and opened fire, shooting dozens of times, and hitting six people. One victim, Isiaka Meite, 24, died at the hospital. The rest, including four teens between 15 and 17 years old, are expected to survive.

They say witnesses saw three people in the basketball courts near the park right before the shooting. After the attack, witnesses say, the three jumped into a silver Nissan Rogue and drove off.

So far, no one has been arrested in the incident.

"How heartless must you be to pull the trigger that many times and hit that many people, knowing that would be the likely outcome," Ross said on Monday.

He says they've pulled more than 800 guns off the streets — double the amount from 2015 — most of them .40-caliber, high-powered weapons.

"If you have one, please do not allow that gun to get into the hands of someone who will commit a crime with it, because the ATF will tell you that is a direct means of trafficking," Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. "We are not talking about a bunch of rinky-dink weapons, we are talking about state-of-the-art weapons."

Ross says the police department will add extra officers to patrol during the weekend early-morning hours, and reorganize Operation Pinpoint, which focuses on high-crime districts.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is aligning himself with Philadelphia's top cop after Ross' comments Monday saying criminal justice reform has become offender-focused and not victim-focused.

The DA says he takes each gun case at face value.

"We need to remember individual justice in each case. We need to be very careful that what is given out is going to be constructive in terms of turning those people away from crime, either now or in the future, or both," Krasner said. 

Krasner says the solution is a holistic approach.

"There are structural problems. When you have 16-year-olds who are dropping out of school, they see no future for themselves, they don't have a sense of self-worth. They are much more likely to pick up a gun," he said. 

He also pointed the finger at prior administrations.

"The fact is the people who are out there shooting right now, grew up with DAs who were all about enforcement, they were all about long prison terms and it didn't do a damn thing," he added. 

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KYW Newsradio's Kristen Johanson contributed to this report.