I don’t know how Philadelphia came to be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but I can tell you that the name doesn’t apply to certain sections of the city. I’m thinking, for example, of the neighborhood known as North Philadelphia/West, which is actually walking distance from the Museum of Art steps that Rocky Balboa climbed back in 1976. And I’m wondering whether a modern-day Rocky could run down 24th Street today without getting mugged, or robbed, or worse. Because the crime numbers, particularly robberies, assaults and homicides, just don’t seem to be possible except they really are.
For the last 30 days, this neighborhood of slightly less than 60,000 residents reported 60 violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, assault), along with 188 serious property crimes (auto, burglary, theft.) If this crime rate continues, and it will probably go up as the weather gets warmer, North Philly-West will be running an annual violent crime rate of 100 per 100,000, with a homicide rate alone of 20 – the national homicide rate is under 4.
And by the way, don’t think for one minute that North Philly-West is all that bad. In fact, when it comes to violent crime rates, there are 13 Philadelphia neighborhoods that are worse. Fairhill, which is just a hop, skip and jump away from North Philly, may end the year with a homicide rate of 160! That’s simply not possible. But you know what? There were two murders over the last 30 days in this neighborhood of 16,000 people, four homicides already this year. As Bill Clinton said in his 2012 speech re-nominating Barack Obama: “Do the arithmetic.”
So Philadelphia has a murder problem, which means it has a shooting problem, which means it has a problem with kids. Because I don’t care whether we are talking about North Philly, Chicago Heights, East St. Louis or Timbuctoo, when it comes to violence, this problem first shows up in kids, particularly early-teen boys. By the ages of 12-13 they have guns, by the ages of 15-16, they are using them in the streets, by the ages of 20-21 they are on their way to either going to jail for homicide or going to the morgue.
Which means that effective interventions have to involve behavior modification and getting rid of the guns. Now let me stop right here and say that I’m not interested in any discussion about 2nd Amendment crap, okay? Enough is enough with all this nonsense about how any attempt to regulate guns deprives law-abiding Americans of their God-given rights to defend themselves or whatever else God allegedly gives them the right to do. We figured out how to prevent the spread of Ebola, it shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out how to stop the spread of violence committed with guns.
And one place it is being figured out is at CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a remarkable medical facility that has been pioneering pediatric medicine since its founding in 1855. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the hospital developed a program specifically aimed at curbing gun violence among pre-adults in an effort to reduce what had become nearly 1,000 juvenile shooting victims every year. The program, called Violence Prevention Initiative (VIP), has screened more than 108,000 juveniles who come into the ER with symptoms and histories that might make them at risk for violence. A small number of these kids are then closely monitored and kids also receive anti-violence lessons in school.
And here’s something to bear in mind. Asking teenagers about reasons why they are violent often involves discussions about very personal things. And many young people are reluctant or resistant to have such discussions with cops, or teachers, or even their friends. But the one place that everyone feels secure enough to say anything they want is behind a closed door sitting across from that kindly man or woman who wears a white coat. Which is why doctors always need to be involved in dealing with the violence caused by guns.