Mayors Team Up to Fight Violence, Call for Feds to Act

During an address at the National Press Club, mayors from Philadelphia and New Orleans called for national action on violence.

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Susan Walsh/ AP

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, left, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter talk following their speeches at the National Press Club in Washington.

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu on Thursday called for national action against violent crime, especially that faced by African Americans, who were 50% of murder victims and 37.9% of murderers in 2012.

Though total murders and rates of murder are down across the board when compared to 2007, they ticked up last year and the two Democratic mayors said the violence urban communities face needs to be treated as a national priority. “It is time to marshal every resource—federal, state, and local, private, faith-based, not-for-profit—to turn the tide,” Mayor Landrieu said during their joint address.

Total murders are 9.9% below their level in 2008 and 20.3% below the levels America faced in 2003, according to FBI crime data. At the end of 2012 in Philadelphia there were a reported 331 murders, according to the city’s police department,  up from the 324 reported in 2011, but homicide is currently down 41% from levels reported at this time last year. In New Orleans, long touted as the murder capital of the U.S., there were 193 murders  in 2012, a slight decrease from the 199 the city faced in 2011.

Though murder is declining as a whole, for certain communities homicides have remained high.  African Americans between 14 and 24, have represented 16% of all  homicide victims since 1994, and declined from being 35% of all offenders the early ’90s to 27% of all offenders in 2008. White teens were about 10% of  victims and 16% of offenders in 2008.

The mayors said efforts like Operation Pressure Point, which deploys police officers into hotspots in Philadelphia, and NOLA for life, which educates communities about the impact of violence and seeks to provide job and volunteer opportunities for youth and adults in New Orleans, are largely to thank for the reduction in crime in their cities and they want to see similar strategies implemented across the country.

“Thousands of Black men and boys and many other Americans die every day in our country and virtually nothing happens,” Mayor Nutter said during the address. “This is serious– we need a Domestic Security Agency, because we have a violence problem in America.”

“Across America it is a constant drum beat of death,” said Mayor Landrieu. “We are losing an entire generation of promise.”

Together the mayors currently co-lead an initiative called “Cities United,” a coalition of municipalities confronting the issues of violence and murder, particularly as they relate to African Americans, but want the federal government to join in the effort. The two said the nation needs a similar response to the death of black men and boys on the streets of urban cities as it has had to deaths caused by terrorist attacks.

“If international terrorists killed 236 Philadelphians of any race, we would hunt them down for decades and bring them to justice no matter the cost,” Mayor Nutter said, referring to the approximate number of black Philadelphians who were murdered in 2012. “And yet, 236 African American men murdered in one city…not one word.”

By increasing the jurisdiction of prosecutors, launching a COPs program that puts more police on the streets similar to what President Clinton established in the ’90s, and working to keep illegal guns off the streets, Congress and the federal government can make a difference in the lives of urban Americans, the mayors agreed.  A member of the audience asked why they were focused on illegal guns, when just last week the Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people at the Navy Yard with a legally purchased gun. The mayors responded they weren’t looking to get involved in the larger Congressional fight over guns, noting Thursday’s call to action was not directed solely at the federal government.

“We said it was a national problem,” Mayor Landrieu said during the question and answer portion. “We did not say it was just a federal problem.”

The goal, Landrieu said, is to quell the murder and violence plaguing American cities in a coordinated, cooperative manner. That means involving local governments as well as community organizations, who Landrieu says also play an important role.

“Government on its best day can never replace a family,” Landrieu said. “We need safe streets, more jobs, and better schools, but it won’t matter without personal responsibility…this means pastors, teachers, coaches, neighbors and friends—we each have a big role to play.”