NORTH PHILADELPHIA – Dee Smith pushed her son, Marcus, in a wheelchair. Other mothers carried poster-size photos of their children – Michael Keel, 14; Keith Lovett, 17; Jason Sweeney, 16; Thiayanna Son, 10; Antwine Kellam, 18; Faheem Thomas-Childs, 10; Jazmine McDonald, 13; and Kyree Cohen, 17 – all killed in acts of violence.
“We want people to see our pain,” said Terrance Berry, whose son was one of the victims.
Marcus Smith was severely injured in 1991 when a teen shot into a crowd six weeks before Marcus was to graduate high school and enter Harvard University. Twenty-six students have died from violence this school year.
Some 10,000 people joined the parents in the April 10 March to Save the Children, sponsored by the NAACP, the Philadelphia School District and state Rep. Jewell Williams, who called for gun control legislation.
Mayor John Street addressed the marchers when they assembled at Dobbins Technical High School in North Philadelphia. Parents pushing strollers lined up with elders walking with canes. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts led the march as flag bearers. Members of AFSCME District Council 47 and 33 carried signs that said, “Stop Killing Our Children.”
Other union contingents, including the Laborers and Temple University Employees, carried banners reading, “Bury Guns, Not Children” and “Our Children Are Our Future.” Neighborhood clubs, organizations and churches wore their T-shirts for identification.
In February, Faheem Thomas-Childs, a 10-year-old honors student, was shot in the schoolyard at T.M. Pierce Elementary School at 8:30 in the morning, caught in the crossfire between two rival drug gangs. Although many witnessed the gun battle – the gang members fired 94 rounds – no one is willing to testify in court. In similar cases in the past, witnesses have been murdered.
“We’re fed up. I’ve lived in North Philly all my life. We had pride,” said Alva Green. “I can’t afford to move, but I’m too scared to stay.”
As marchers filled the Pierce Elementary schoolyard and the streets around the school, speakers pleaded with neighborhood residents to be courageous and turn in Thomas-Childs’ killers. Students from the school recited poetry, sang and danced. The school principal said the school was still in a state of mourning and described his feelings of remorse for not being able to protect one of his own.
As a follow-up to the march, student leaders will meet with the Chamber of Commerce requesting summer jobs for every youth who wants to work. They will appeal to all levels of government to provide funding to establish safe corridors around troubled schools and the cleaning and repair of recreation facilities in economically depressed neighborhoods. They will urge parents to become more active in their childrens’ school and to make sure their children are safe going to and from school.
The marchers expressed the emotion that comes from years of destabilization of many city neighborhoods due to thousands of jobs leaving the city, massive unemployment and cuts in education and other social support programs. Two weeks before the march, Mayor Street announced a $227 million deficit for the city in 2005 and said some recreation centers and pools would have to be closed.
The Eastern Pennsylvania district of the Communist Party distributed a leaflet, “No More Cuts, Make Corporate Philadelphia Pay Its Share,” which noted that 82 percent of companies in Pennsylvania pay no income tax. It called for taxing the corporations and the rich to fund human needs.
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