by Rose Klales

There has been a recent increase in gun violence in East Mount Airy, and many residents are concerned about their safety. What can people do to keep themselves and their family safe?

8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Captain Christopher Smith, of the 14th Police District, had a pop-up meeting on Aug. 7 to address the rise in shootings in the area.

Smith said that murders involving guns in the 14th District had increased by 200% last year. He is uncertain about the cause of these issues but assured people in attendance that he does think very carefully about the issue when he assigns officers to certain areas.

“I am always adjusting my deployment.,” he said. “Every day things change.”

He followed up this comment with an assurance that his deployments were strategic and targeted to current issues.

Smith encouraged residents to attend Police Service Area meetings and communicate with local police. He noted that PSA meetings address issues specific to the areas officers represent, and therefore can provide more relevant information to specific areas. Speaking to local representatives and police officers is one way to affect positive change; in doing so, you build a rapport with officials and can express concerns more easily. It also encourages officers to be kind and attentive when in the neighborhood.

Smith also recommends installing cameras and advertising the installation. Doing so will discourage criminal behavior. Residents can also register their cameras with the 14th District and provide recordings as evidence of any concerning behaviors in the area.

But gun violence is an overarching issue that seems to affect specific areas. How can one help to limit its troubling occurrences?

Smith said the majority of gun violence in the district does occur in Germantown. As someone who has grown up in Germantown, this did not shock me. Systemic oppression and poverty are rampant in the area, and gun violence is one side effect of a larger issue: too many kids have too few opportunities.

There are very few public schools in the area. Germantown High School was shut down in 2013, so children must either apply to a private school in the area or go farther from home. There are also a limited number of public recreation centers with after-school and family programs in the area. The ones that exist are underfunded.

It is no surprise, then, that many children feel discouraged and undervalued. Children are also concerned for their safety. One man present at the meeting with Bass and Smith shared a story about his son’s friend:

“He carries a gun ‘cause he’s afraid,” the man said. “He wants to protect his brothers and his family. Why should a boy be so afraid?”

Systemic oppression and poverty cannot be solved in one night. But getting involved with local charities and creating opportunities for young people and ex-convicts can help issues like gun violence. According to Youth.gov, creating after-school activities and creating safe school environments provides better developmental environments for children. Therefore, hiring local kids for after school jobs, recreation centers that can provide after-school programs, or donating to public schools are all great ways to keep kids safe.

Smith also encouraged residents to be more open to young people. Rather than reporting them to the police, ask if their parents know where they are. Offer them odd jobs.

Gun violence is a terrifying reality in this world. But taking agency and helping create welcoming areas will limit its presence.

Rose Klales just completed a summer internship with the Local. She is entering her senior year at Penn Charter.

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