‘Peace Not Guns’ rally hopes to end violence in Point Breeze

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Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson speaks at a Peace Not Guns rally at Wharton Square Park in response to a pair of deadly shootings in the Point Breeze neighborhood over the July 4 weekend. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The 4th of July weekend witnessed an alarming number of shootings in Philadelphia. And residents in South Philly are fed up with it.

A large crowd gathered at Wharton Square Park in response to an emergency meeting called by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, as part of his “Peace Not Guns” initiative.

“We’re saying enough is enough,” Johnson said. “Beyond this rally, we’re going to strategize and organize as a community to figure out how we can stop this violence in Philadelphia when it comes to young people carrying these guns.”

According to police, there were at least 30 shootings reported across the city during the holiday weekend, including two fatal shootings in the Point Breeze neighborhood.

On July 3, a 24-year-old man was shot several times near 24th and Oakford streets and later died at Pennsylvania Hospital. The same weekend, another man in his 20s was also shot multiple times on the 1300 block of S. 17th Street and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.

The Peace Not Guns rally congregated at the park and featured remarks from speakers. The group then proceeded east down Wharton Street to 17th, covering the short distance between the two fatal shootings.

Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson speaks at a Peace Not Guns rally at Wharton Square Park in response to a pair of deadly shootings in the Point Breeze neighborhood over the July 4 weekend. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“This is my neighborhood where I grew up,” Johnson said. “The parents all know each other. The murders that we are seeing take place in the same neighborhoods are a tragedy because everyone knows each other on a parent level.”

Felicia Pendleton is a parent who lost her son Jayvon Mitchell-Pendleton to gun violence in 2016. He was a Cheyney University student home on spring break and was killed in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

“We can’t keep doing this,” she said. “Something has to be done. People ask why we march. If you sit down and say nothing, it’s going to be like nothing ever happened. We do this to bring awareness. This stuff is real. I have a 17-year-old who is heading to college and I’m scared about it. And I’m scared for myself for holding him in after the murder of my oldest son because I’m so afraid of what might happen. I can’t hold him in the house anymore. I don’t want to see a second child of mine’s life taken.”

Pendelton founded the nonprofit Mothers United by Angels and was at Wharton Square Park in support of Peace Not Guns. They were joined by Anton Moore, president and founder of Unity in the Community. He said residents need to do more.

“This is not normal,” he said. “We are not putting our best foot forward to stop this. We got to check ourselves and look within ourselves from our neighborhoods and say stop the nonsense. I look at the gatherings we have when we’re having a good time and you see all the brethren come together. But when it’s something serious about saving our young brothers, you don’t see that many men on the front lines and that’s a problem. If we don’t stand up, it’s not going to get better.”

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Through July 4 weekend, 871 people had been shot in Philadelphia in 2020, up 24 percent from last year. Homicides have also been on the rise. As of July 8, 216 homicides occurred in the city, which represents a 29 percent increase from 2019.

Johnson said there was plenty of work to be done as a community after the march.

“I’ll do my part through public policy and City Council to make sure we advocate and make sure we’re bringing more resources to the community to ensure young men won’t have to make a decision of ‘Do I carry a gun, or do I follow up and get a job and focus on a career?’ That’s our mission and that’s why we’re out there today.”