Video: Philadelphia's murder surge

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/18/2005 7:39:49 PM ET 2005-03-19T00:39:49

Julia Merejildo cries for her 9-year-old son, Wander DeJesus. He was killed when a bullet pierced his chest while he sat in a car outside his uncle's store.

“He was [a] happy boy,” says his cousin Kathy Correa. “He didn't have no problem with nobody.”

He's the youngest of at least 30 people killed in Philadelphia this month — with 80 murders so far this year, the number is up 14 percent from the same period last year.

The city’s murder rate is up after two years of decline. This, as many other major cities, like Chicago, have reduced homicides to 40-year lows with more cops on the beat, more video surveillance and targeted policing.

“Here it was street gangs controlling the retail drug trade,” says Chicago police superintendent Philip Cline. “That's what we went after.”

But Philadelphia has a different problem. Police say the shootings follow no particular pattern — they’re neither gang- nor drug-related. In fact, most result from domestic disputes or arguments settled with a gun.

“It's a spike in the homicide rate that's not capable of rational explanation,” says Philadelphia Mayor John Street.

Street says state laws make it too easy to buy guns. Philadelphia has some 28,000 registered weapons, he says, while much larger New York City has just 16,000.

“There are just absolutely too many guns and, specifically, handguns in the community,” he says.

The mayor wants the city to make its own gun laws — an idea opposed by many lawmakers in this very rural state.

Another problem: Budget cuts left Philadelphia with fewer cops on the streets. So, in some rough neighborhoods, community activists fight the gun problem face-to-face.

“Anytime we get the opportunity to engage people and meet them where they are, there's an impact,” says Ray Jones of Men United.

On March 17, police arrested an 18-year-old man for allegedly killing young Wander DeJesus just days before he turned 10 — in a city in the crossfire of guns.

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