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Representative calls for state of emergency in Philly due to gun violence

State Rep. Curtis Thomas said "impotent" lawmakers have allowed a “climate of lawlessness” in Philadelphia.
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas addresses the community in North Philadelphia, with a speech at Love Zion Baptist Church, on Thursday. (Hayden Mitman)

During an address to members of the community in North Philadelphia, State Rep. Curtis Thomas (D-181st Dist.) talked about how his office is working to address gun violence throughout his North Philadelphia district with the new Communities That Care Network recently created in the Strawberry Mansion community.

And, he said during an interview on Thursday afternoon, he believes it’s time to declare a state of emergency in Philadelphia due to the ongoing gun violence.

“There’s a climate of lawlessness going on,” said the state representative. “It’s a climate of lawlessness, hopelessness and a feeling of 'I don’t care.'”

Curtis blamed this climate on elected officials who back away from the idea of stronger gun control laws in the state, especially concerning Philadelphia, saying that their “impotent” efforts have allowed illegal guns to continue to fall into the hands of individuals who could cause damage with the weapons.

He also called out the National Rifle Association, saying that “it isn’t right” that the NRA has tried to sue the city of Philadelphia – though the law that would have allowed it was struck down last year – over the city creating stricter gun-control legislation.

Instead, he said, the city should be allowed to have an exception to the state’s Uniform Firearms Act that would allow the city more control over the preference of illegal weapons in city streets.

In response to recent shootings in his district, during a speech held at Love Zion Baptist Church in Strawberry Mansion, Thomas pointed out recent incidents – he especially noted a May shooting at a block party near the intersection of 23rd and Huntingdon streets that left nine people injured – and said that he believed through community outreach and cooperation, significant improvements can be made to combat gun violence in the community.

To do this, Thomas’ office has worked with the Love Zion Baptist Church, along with the Cambria Recreation Center, the Philadelphia Family Center for Development and the Moses L. Walker Jr. Foundation, to create the Communities That Care Network for the neighborhood.

Through this effort, these organizations will work as “safe houses” for members of the community, he said, allowing them to be anchors of the community and spaces that can provide positive programs, youth and family counseling, youth outreach efforts and other benefits.

It’s an initiative that, Thomas said, he’s seen have success. After several homicides in his district back in 2004, Thomas worked to create a similar Communities That Care Network on the south side of Girard Avenue throughout the district.

In that area, he said, there has been the creation of a Community Center at Richard Allen Homes, there’s been an increase in available affordable housing for veterans and, most importantly, crime fell in the area.

“Since 2004, we have not had one homicide on that side of Girard Avenue,” Thomas said confidently.

With Thomas confident in the program, Clarence E. Wright, pastor of Love Zion Baptist Church, said his church will do its best to support the community, and he looks forward to organizing efforts with others in the Communities That Care Network to make an impact.

“I hope this can bring us together,” said the pastor, saying his church offers youth basketball programs, and they perform regular prayer walks throughout the community to get neighbors interested in their work.

“We see what’s going on, and we really try to be an active part of the community,” he said.

On Saturday, Sept. 9, from 1 to 3 p.m., there will be a Communities That Care Network meeting at Love Zion Baptist Church at 2521 N. 23rd Street. Everyone in the community is invited to attend to learn about how to combat poverty and violence in the community.