• Brian Dries

Philly’s Own Groundhog Prognosticator? Tackling the Continuous Loop of Violence.


Pennsylvania spotlights two famous groundhogs for their ability to tell the future and inspire luck.

Phil, the much older, more bashful of the two, predicts the weather from the western part of the state every Feb. 2. He recently called for a short winter. Gus, who is never shy of the camera, gleefully forecasts potential lottery winnings from Harrisburg.

Both play important roles in marketing the interests of many residents throughout the Commonwealth and around the globe.

With so much territory needing to be covered by only two furry creatures, it stands that Philadelphia should have its own future-predicting groundhog. So, how about “Bill the Groundhog?” It’s a fitting moniker in recognition of William Penn – the state founder and city developer who, fittingly, is permanently positioned high above city hall.

Bill has actually been predicting the city’s future for years. In fact, for many Philadelphians, the

entire last decade has been an ongoing Groundhog Day when it comes to tackling violence.

While many city officials, community organizations, academic experts and citizens have put forth countless efforts to reduce citywide violence, the killings occur at higher rates every year. The city ended 2019 with 356 homicides, the highest in 12 years. In the last five years alone, Philadelphia has realized a staggering 45 percent increase in homicides.

Unfortunately, 2020 isn’t off to a great start either. After one month in the books, the homicide count is already 38 percent above last year. That’s more than one killing a day – an unpleasant figure that maybe even Bill hadn’t foreseen.

However, like all forecasts, the winds can change direction and bring with it brighter skies. And, city leaders are now taking the charge.

On the first full regular session of City Council, Council President Darrell Clarke took immediate action by introducing a resolution authorizing Council to retain legal help to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its failure to take action preventing violence across the state – especially in Philadelphia. The legislative action would also compel the Commonwealth to enact stronger gun laws, or allow municipalities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and others to pass their own gun laws.

New Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson also addressed the issues that day, arguing it’s time to declare a state of emergency regarding gun violence in the city. Other council members joined to support the resolution, including Allan Domb, Curtis Jones, Derek Green, Kenyatta Johnson, and Cherelle Parker.

City Council isn’t the only elected body to join the public discussion and provide support to combating the city’s violence. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart issued a report examining the Kenney Administration’s spending of funds allocated toward violence reduction efforts. Controller Rhynhart contended too many people keep dying and she is going to dedicate resources toward solutions to alleviating the violence. Her recent report also proposed several initiatives that have been implemented to combat crime in other cities.

The city’s next steps are being watched closely – by media, citizens, the business community and all people who experience firsthand violence every day. No matter the initiatives and resources put forth, reducing homicides will take a unified approach and buy-in from key stakeholders and community supporters.

More than 3,600 lives have been lost since the last time the city was in the midst of record-high homicides. With all of the challenges and issues that come with a governing body serving more than 1.5 million residents, city officials are making violence priority number one.

There’s hope driven by leadership that Philly’s Groundhog prognosticator makes the wrong forecast for this year when it comes to public safety.

Brian Dries is an Associate Director in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.

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