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Philly activists pray for #ViolenceFreeFeb

Anti-violence activists have a lofty goal: a month without murders.
Roz Pichardo, head of Operation Save Our City, holds a #ViolenceFreeFeb sign at the WProvided

President Donald Trump's comments last week that Philadelphia's murder rate is "terribly increasing" may have been a lot of hot air, but local activists are nonetheless alarmed by the number of killings on the streets.

The start of 2017 has been so bloody that activists are calling for a violence-free monthin February.

"That would be a total blessing, to have no murders in February," said Roz Pichardo, an anti-violence activist and head ofOperation Save Our City. "That would be an amazing, amazing month. You don't know how happy I'd be to see no murders in February."

Pichardo coined the hashtag #ViolenceFreeFeb, which has been shared by dozens of neighborhood groups campaigning to rally the public's interest instopping violence for just four weeks.

The idea arose after a particularly bloody start to 2017, said Anti-Violence Coalition (AVC) executive director Bilal Qayyum. So far, there's been roughly one murder a day in January.

"The murder rate has dropped, but it could easily pop up again," Qayyum said."That's why we tell folks, you got to stay out there, you got to keep the pressure onthese young men out on the streets."

Pichardo, of Kensington, has experienced the pain of street violence herself, having lost her brother, and as a teenager, her boyfriend, in separate shootings.

Pichardo often takes her activism to the streets. She approaches people involved in beefs and tries to help quash them before bullets start flying. She also hands out gunlocks that come with pictures of Philly kids who have been accidentally killed by gunfire. And she counsels the families of victims.

"I'm pro-active, I'm going to corners, talking to families of homicide victims, seeing what they can do for the next family," she said. "Because I know so many people in the corners, I know who has beef with whom."

She said she was "disappointed" that Trump told participants in the 2017 Joint Republican Congressional Retreat last week that, "Here in Philadelphia, murder has beensteadily, I mean, justterribly increasing."

Pichardo rejected Trump's assertion.

"That's not true. It's not terribly rising," she said.

Mayor Jim Kenney also blasted Trump's statement as a "false claim," and FOP Lodge #5 president John McNesbysnidely remarked to Billy Penn, "That must have been one of his [Trump's] alternative facts."

But while the general trend in homicide in Philadelphia is downward —2013 marked the lowest number of homicides since the 1960s — in the short-term, there has been a slight uptick.

There were 277 murders in 2016, up from 248 in 2013, according to police department statistics. (In the 1990s, year-end totals were typically over 400.) There have been 27 murders this year, as of Jan. 28, a 30 percent hike over this time last year.

The police department declined to comment on these fluctuations in the murder rate. Instead, the department points to its achievements in 2016: the third lowest number of homicides since 1984, the lowest number of robberies since 1969, lowest number of burglaries on record, and the lowest number of all violent crime since 1979.

"We're not saying we don't have more work to do to continue to drive crime down," police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said. "But our men and women are out there working very hard each day."

Despite all the best wishes and community organizing in the world, a whole month without violence in February is still a tall order for Philadelphia, concedes Pichardo.

"We know that somebody is going to get murdered in February. We're realistic," she said. "We know that somebody's child is going get murdered. But we know we can reduce the numbers, if we catch the people before the shooting starts, telling them there is a way out."

By the numbers
Homicides in Philly
2016 - 277
2015 - 280
2014 - 248
2013 - 246
2012 - 331
2011 - 326
2010 - 306
2009 - 302
2008 - 331
2007 - 391

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