Over the last few months, a scrappy Eagles team shocked their own fan base and most of the NFL by putting together a winning season and making the playoffs. Even as hope surrounds Philadelphia’s football future, the team’s most important work is happening off the field.
At the start of 2022, the Eagles launched their “End Philly Gun Violence” initiative. This community action is seeking to address the ongoing scourge of gun violence that has plagued Philadelphia for years. Through an advocacy campaign and hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, the Eagles are hoping to tackle gun violence with community leaders.
Gun violence has taken a sobering toll on the people of Philadelphia over the last two years. Over 1,000 people have been killed in Philadelphia since the beginning of 2020; 946 of those people were fatally shot. The city’s community is living through one of the deadliest periods in Philadelphia history.
Rodney McLeod, who has spearheaded this issue, knows that gun violence has an impact that ripples through impacted communities. “We are losing family members, friends, mentors, role models, and future leaders because of the gun violence in our streets. No one should ever have to live in fear of going to school, hanging out at the playground, or just walking out the front door.”
This violence did not spring up out of nowhere. Its causes are evident and a clear enough view to see the root of the problem and make it easier to develop the tools and resources to properly address it. America is still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Covid-19 has killed nearly a million people in this country and done significant harm to people lucky enough to survive.
Even as Americans try to mitigate the virus with masking and vaccination campaigns, the country has yet to truly grapple with the social crisis the last two years has wrought. The death toll alone is enough to traumatize entire counties worth of people. Dying family, friends, coworkers and community leaders can have a significant emotional toll on those they leave behind, all while their absence can chip away at the foundation of people’s lives. Covid has claimed the lives of almost 5,000 Philadelphians since the beginning of the pandemic.
The specter of the virus and its direct human cost destabilized the American economy in a way this country has not seen since the Great Depression. Massive job loss at the beginning of the pandemic fueled a wave of poverty, people becoming unhoused and hunger. Early in the pandemic, the city reported that Covid-19 related unemployment impacted more than 20% of the city’s workforce. Most of the jobs that working class people could hold still put them and their families at significant risk, especially before the availability of vaccines.
Finally, the virus made community gathering incredibly difficult. Not only were kids largely not in schools for the early months of the pandemic, people could not gather in places of worship, play organized sports or do most of the things that tend to keep communities together.
In Philadelphia, Covid’s fallout landed on communities where resources were already sparse. Austerity measures across Philly’s poorest neighborhoods closed dozens of schools and left many community programs woefully underfunded. The flight of money from these communities left them vulnerable when the pandemic hit and now many of them are in crisis.
Poverty, hunger, and homelessness combined with communities traumatized and destabilized by Covid 19 in a state where there are the fifth-most guns in the country, leaving Philadelphia in a violent thrall.
These sorts of social and economic instabilities directly cause the type of crime that is afflicting Philadelphia. What needs to happen now is addressing those causes at the root instead of trying to incarcerate our way out of the problem. America has 20% of the world’s incarcerated population, jailing nearly 1% of its own population. This raw number of incarcerated people and the incarcerated people per capita paces the whole world.
Prison and the criminal justice system, as we are finding out as a nation, only serves to exacerbate crime. Much like the viral pandemic we are dealing with, the plague of carceral justice destabilizes entire communities. Not only does the removal of local populations lead to similar traumas mentioned earlier, a lot of the austerity that these communities have borne the brunt of have come when city funding ends up in the hands of police and correctional departments.
Philadelphia organizers against austerity cited these statistics
“The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) has seen its budget increase by $120 million since 2016, and the most recent budget allocates $726 million for the department, or around 15% of the city’s total budget; and… the City of Philadelphia is seeing a $749 million budget shortfall for all other parts of the city’s budget , with examples as follows: the Free Library of Philadelphia’s budget is $49 million or 1% of the budget; Parks and Recreation’s budget is $66 million or 1.4% of the budget; the Arts budget is $1.35 million or 0.028% of the budget; $25 million or 0..52% of the budget will address healthcare needs, healthier food options, affordable housing, anti-poverty efforts, job training and other measures.”
So much of what supports a city’s population has been underfunded while police departments get more and more money, only to see crime rates rise and rise. Isn’t it clear this formula is wrong? That this process is backwards?
The violence Philadelphia is enduring is the result of a vicious cycle caused by the pandemic, austerity and the failures of the criminal justice system. The solution has to come in part from letting money flow back into those communities and that is where the Eagles have stepped in.
“”Between players and the organization, we wanna use our platform in a positive way.” Said Anthony Harris, who started at safety for the Eagles this year. Harris sits on the Eagles social justice council with Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, Brandon Graham, Shaun Bradley, K’Von Wallace and Rodney McLeod. This group of players has been a huge factor in pushing this effort while helping decide on community groups to support.
Already, the Eagles have distributed over $300,000 to organizations that address these problems where they start. These groups provide support for communities experiencing food and housing insecurity. They provide pro-bono legal counsel for communities that are over-policed and over-incarcerated. There are groups that work with children by providing extracurricular learning and after school events.
The program is very much in its infancy, but hopes are high that this money will go a long way to bring stability to a city that needs it so badly. Hopefully, this effort to pour money back into vulnerable communities will show the rest of the country that there is a way out of these waves of violence. Hopefully it will show that bloated police departments are not the cure, but part of the problem.
“This isn’t going to be a campaign that ends once the season stops because change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Rodney McLeod stated. “I hope this campaign brings attention outside of Philadelphia to what’s going on here, encourages others to want to get involved, encourages the people here to look a little closer at themselves and our communities, at our children, to see what we’re actually doing.”
Gun violence has been a blight on Philadelphia and this country for too long. This initiative will show that the people impacted most by it don’t need jails and police, but community support and care.