It’s hard to look at the numbers. Nearly 500 people died from guns last year. Four times that have been shot.
One Germantown resident Jamal Johnson, known for his anti-gun violence and police brutality activism, came up with a personal idea to push change in the city.
A hunger strike.
“That’s normally your last resort,” Johnson says. “Of course, you could get arrested. But to me, that’s not even as dire as a hunger strike.”
The 63-year-old’s decision to stop eating was taken to force Mayor Jim Kenney to publicly acknowledge a City Council Resolution that declares gun violence a public emergency. It was introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier in August 2020 and later approved by the City Council in September. City Council Resolution 200447, is a call to “declare gun violence a citywide emergency and develop an urgent, unrelenting response to the gun violence epidemic plaguing Black and Brown neighborhoods in Philadelphia…”
“I could not fathom that the mayor would have ignored the City Council, which represents us,” Johnson says. “I just couldn’t comprehend it.”
But the Mayor did not respond.
The hunger strike began on MLK day, Monday, Jan. 18. For 26 days, Johnson woke up and drove to City Hall. He hung around the building for three to four hours daily and sometimes camped out with other organizations protesting in the area. He carried a bullhorn, a chair, and a sign reading ‘Strike, Mayor Kenney.’
Although Johnson knew a hunger strike would affect his health, he says, “he had to do something.” Johnson, a born-and-raised Philadelphia resident, says gun violence has affected his entire life; family, friends, and his granddaughter and niece have been shot in Philadelphia.
Johnson reminds us , “It doesn’t matter where you live in Philadelphia, you are a possible victim of the gun violence that’s going on.”
After 26 days of fasting Johnson got the Mayor to declare that gun violence is a citywide emergency. He says he plans to hold Mayor Kenney accountable as the city moves forwards with plans. Johnson says, “Murder and homicide is not a seasonal issue. It’s a 24/7, four-season issue. We’ve got to always be on it, no matter what.“