(Jamal Johnson (far left), Mazzie Casher of Philly Truce (second to far right), and other residents gathered for Operation Hug The Block. Photo Credit: Jamal Johnson)

Germantown neighbor and STOP KILLING US (SKU) organizer Jamal Johnson, together with Philly Truce, have begun a 77-night campaign where they will be out overnight and highly visible on the 77 blocks most affected by gun violence in Philadelphia. This latest crusade will wrap up on Election Day and seeks to continue the momentum with their Operation Hug The Block initiative. They hope it will reignite a sense of community and set the tone for our next mayor.

The initiative tackles the original 57 blocks first brought to life by the Intersections of Injustice article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which highlighted Philadelphia’s blocks most affected by gun violence since 2015.  Out of that report came the  57 Blocks Project, which aimed to reduce gun violence through targeted investment of resources, services, and environmental improvements. While that report came out in 2021, Johsnon and Mazzie Casher of Philly Truce say that 20 more blocks now have experienced at least ten shootings. 

While the Germantown Info Hub doesn’t have data to support that claim, we have contacted the District Attorney’s Office for clarity, as that’s the source Johnson and Casher cited.

“We’re trying to do something to try to motivate people in the community to come out and get back into the community,” says Johnson. “[We want to] make it alive again, in light of all the violence for the last few years and the fact that we’re being told now that there’s been a downturn in violence.”

Johnson has been active in the streets of Philadelphia for several years, previously partaking in a hunger strike to force Mayor Jim Kenney to act on gun violence, frequently organizing gatherings at shooting sites and even organizing an annual 150-mile walk to Washington, D.C., since 2017.

Operation Hug The Block furthers Johnson’s work and Philly Truce’s various methods of reconnecting people to their communities, like their Safe City Summer initiative that just finished its first cohort. Casher says that Johnson was one of Philly Truce’s most dependable supporters at the beginning of 2022 when they did their first extended Peace Patrol campaign, so the partnership on this happened organically.

Together, they hope this will set the tone for the 100th mayor of Philadelphia, influence public opinion, and encourage voters to consider the issue of gun violence prevention when choosing the next mayor. 

Additionally, they want to create awareness and emphasize the importance of prioritizing the safety and well-being of residents, particularly women, children, and older adults. By demonstrating the impact of community engagement and a visible presence in the streets, they aim to show that active involvement can deter gun violence.

Johnson elaborates on their decision to have a 77-night patrol leading to election day, saying, “We don’t feel that the mayor has done enough about gun violence. We actually started to believe they’re starting to put [gun violence reduction strategies] on the back burner because of the downturn of the homicides.”

Casher says, “We don’t want to get stuck at the bottom and allow the next administration to come in on this low-energy [Mayor] Kenney vibe. We have to raise the energy, and we have to raise our voices to make sure it is known that this is unacceptable, and we demand this situation be addressed. Period!”

Thus far this year, Philadelphia has witnessed a downward trend of violence compared to last year. As of August 24, there have been 283 homicides in 2023, a 20% decrease from 2022, according to the Office of the Controller. But even if that trend continues through the end of the year, Philly would still have more than 400 homicides in 2023, considerably more than before the pandemic.

Johnson continues his point: “We don’t think that we should be taking our foot off the pedal at all because it’s obvious that a lot of people are still being shot — a lot of people being injured out here on the streets. So we want to show our commitment for [77 nights] that this still needs to be followed up. In spite of the fact that we’re encouraging people to come out, we still realize we’re in a gun violence epidemic in Philadelphia that should be addressed urgently by the incoming administration.”

Over the next ten weeks, Philadelphia residents in the most impacted sections of the city, like Nicetown-Tioga, Kensington, Olney, and Germantown, can expect to see Johnson, Philly Truce, and other community members gathering and patrolling their neighborhoods. As mentioned, these will happen through the early morning of Election Day (November 7), as most patrols start at 10 p.m. and end around 4 a.m. the next day.

While residents are encouraged to come out to the scheduled dates, Johnson says that Operation Hug The Block looks to serve as a model to show folks that they can do this too on their own time and in their own neighborhoods, even if their community isn’t one of the recorded 77 blocks.

“We’re just going to the supposedly worst recorded areas to show that it can be done,” Johnson says. “So if you live somewhere where you don’t have gun violence this bad, then you can start doing something in your own community with your own neighbors and just come on back outside. The main thing is we need people to start feeling safe again, and we’re trying to set that template.”

Casher makes his own call for support, expanding on his former sentiments around the “manhood crisis,” saying, “Last night (August 26) was the first time we had some people join the patrol right off of their stoop, and it was actually some very young people — about nine and eight-year-old kids. And while that’s very sweet, we would love for some men to come out and join this. We’ve had women come out every night. We are open to the community, but we really need for the men in these communities to really give some thought to whether or not they have a role in calming things down.”

For residents looking to attend a peace patrol vigil, click here. You can also visit www.phillytruce.com for a complete list of dates and to keep up with Philly Truce. You can follow his STOP Killing US Facebook page to keep up with more of Johnson’s work.

Johnson ends by saying, “We want you, the community, to start it where you are and hold each other accountable to doing that as a whole so that we can get Philadelphia back to the way it used to be.”