Oct 5, 2022 - News

Philadelphia tracks rise in youth as targets of violence

Bar chart showing the annual victims of gun violence in Philadelphia who were younger than 18. The number of victims has been increasing every year, from 81 in 2015 to 181 as of October 2022.

Data: City of Philadelphia; Note: Homicides refer to shooting incidents in which the victim died; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Gun violence targeting youth is on the rise in Philadelphia, with city data showing the number of shooting and homicide victims under 18 so far this year more than doubling since 2015.

Driving the news: The dramatic uptick in youth who are becoming victims of gun violence was put sharply into focus last week, when a 14-year-old was killed, and four others wounded in a shooting after a football scrimmage at Roxborough High School.

  • Police on Tuesday announced murder charges against a 16-year-old in the shooting, 6ABC reports. A warrant is out for his arrest.

By the numbers: The number of youth gun victims in 2022 alone already equals the combined total from 2015 and 2016, city data shows.

  • In 2021, the year the city set a record for overall homicides, the number of juvenile homicide victims was more than three times that of youth under 18 killed in 2015.

The big picture: Experts and activists said anecdotally that perpetrators of violent crime in the city are getting younger and targeting people their age.

What they're saying: Kenneth Adams, a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida, told Axios that juvenile "perpetrators and victims tend to interchange roles" in a cycle of disputes that sometimes stem from petty schoolyard squabbles.

  • The proliferation of guns, drug-turf disputes and the erosion of family units could be contributing factors to why Philly is seeing a spike in youth violence, Adams said.
  • "We have found that juveniles, probably because of their age and lack of maturity, they're not very good at handling conflict," he said. "They turn to the gun."

That meshes with what local activists such as Sister Taleah Taylor of the anti-violence group City of Dreams Coalition are saying, as many teens she works with come from "broken homes" and that's why they get involved in violent crime.

  • "The reality is that nothing is going to get fixed until we change our foundation," Taylor said. "It's the same cycle. It's just more vicious."

Zoom out: Adams said statistics show that juvenile crime has actually plummeted nationwide since reaching a peak in the mid-1990s.

  • In 2000, 15% of all arrests nationwide were of people under 18 compared with around half that amount in 2019, according to the Sentencing Project.
  • The organization says the youth arrest rate for violent crime fell 72% from 1994 to 2019.

Between the lines: Angelic Bradley, of the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, said her outreach group has had success reaching youth before they get caught in the cycle of violence.

  • Saving lives is sometimes as simple as getting kids to trust their guts when they might feel unsafe in situations.
  • "The fear is kill or be killed," she said. "They get caught up because they don't see the signs. We all have that intuition when something doesn't feel right. They run directly to the issue instead of running away."
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