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A Record 559 Murders in Philly in 2021 Scrapes Scars Into the City's Psyche

NBC Philadelphia logo NBC Philadelphia 1/2/2022 Claudia Vargas and NBC10 Staff
Two police officers investigate the site of a shooting in Germantown on Dec. 30. © Provided by NBC Philadelphia

Two police officers investigate the site of a shooting in Germantown on Dec. 30.

In Philadelphia, 559 people were murdered in 2021, the most in the city's history.

It's a record everyone saw coming and no one was able to stop. And it has scraped scars into the psyche of Philadelphians.

“In our neighborhood when you hear gunshots we know to just roll on the floor and stay down," Germantown resident Helama Cannon said Friday. “I had to teach my grandchildren -- when you hear gunshots, roll over and stay down until I tell you it’s OK.

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"It makes you angry. You get fed up," Cannon said.

The 559 murders are the most since the city began keeping records in the 1960s. It's more murders than during the crack epidemic of the early 1990s.

It's more murders than in far more populous cities in 2021, including New York and Los Angeles.

And it is an increase from last year's 499 murders, and a large increase from 2019, when Philadelphia recorded 356 homicides.

More than 200 children and teens have been caught in the crossfire amid the rising violence. The controller's office says 36 minors were killed by gunfire and another 206 wounded in 2021.

"It’s not just one person impacted by the violence, it's whole communities, whole neighborhoods," said Emily DeCarlo of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, a non-profit that offers counseling to anyone affected by gun violence.

The number of murders in 2021 has swelled the partnership's waiting list to almost a year.

"The whole city of Philadelphia, I would say, is likely to be traumatized from this year -- the pandemic, the gun violence, all of it," DeCarlo said.

The city appropriated $155 million to public safety in its last budget, including $16 million for neighborhood-based groups fighting violence.

However, Mayor Jim Kenney twice this year declined to issue an emergency declaration on gun violence, something pushed by both activists and fellow lawmakers as a way to clear red tape and expedite resources to combat the problem.

Earlier this month, the mayor told NBC10 via email that an emergency declaration on gun violence would have “no discernible impact on strengthening what is already a highly collaborative and innovative approach to addressing this public health crisis.”

City Council President Darell Clarke issued a statement Friday, saying, "Council and the Mayor clearly must do more in 2022."

He pointed out that the city's latest budget included $155 million for public safety, including money for neighborhood-based anti-violence groups. "Every budgetary decision that Council makes and laws it approves must target actual solutions," he wrote.

He called for the city to have the ability to set its own gun laws, better coordination and cooperation among police, elected officials and the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and for improvements to neighborhoods and schools.

City residents are waiting for action, and worried.

"You're fearful of what could happen just going to the corner store. Your kids could be playing in the yard and they could just get shot out of nowhere," community activist Kelly Cales Martinez told NBC10 on Thursday.

"There has to be some way, somehow, that we can stop at least some of this," she said.

There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.

Editor's note (Jan. 2, 2022 at 11:43 a.m.): The total number of murders for 2021 has been updated in this article following adjusted figures from the Philadelphia Police Department.

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