Lawmakers raise alarm after wave of Philly shootings

MARC LEVY and RON TODT
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Graduation Party Shooting

People gather Monday, June 17, 2019 to retrieve items left behind after a gunman opened fire Sunday evening, at Paschall Playground in Southwest Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Lawmakers from Philadelphia called for increased action from state and city officials Monday to stem a rising tide of gun violence that included a fatal shooting when someone sprayed gunfire into a high school graduation party at a public park.

The bloody weekend comes as Philadelphia's homicide count is surging toward its highest level in more than a decade.

Among the measures being sought by Philadelphia members of Pennsylvania's Legislature is a bigger police presence on the street, collaboration among top state and city offices and an emergency response by Mayor Jim Kenney.

They also said legislation is necessary to reduce the availability of firearms, although gun-control efforts hit stiff resistance in Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature.

Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, called the shootings a "major crisis" in Philadelphia and Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, called it a "public health crisis."

"We cannot go into this summer with our families afraid to take their kids to the park or host celebratory gatherings where they have to fear they may be subject to a shooting," Dawkins told a news conference in the state Capitol.

It's not yet known what sparked the Sunday night graduation party shooting at Finnegan Playground that authorities say left a 24-year-old man dead and five people wounded. Isiaka Meite was shot in the back and died at a hospital, authorities said.

Listed in stable condition were four teenagers, all shot in the legs or ankles, and a 21-year-old man shot in his elbow.

The shooter remained at large Monday.

Many people at the celebration were immigrants from West African countries, attendees told The Philadelphia Inquirer, and they were honoring recent graduates of various area high schools.

The homicide count in Philadelphia before Monday stood at 152, 13% higher than at the same point last year. Philadelphia recorded 349 homicides in 2018, the highest number since 2007's 392.

Philadelphia's police commissioner, Richard Ross, said Monday that the weekend produced 23 shootings with 32 victims, including a suicide.

It took a "lack of regard for life" to fire into a crowd of at least 70 people at the graduation party, Ross said.

"How heartless must you be to pull the trigger that many times, and hit that many people, knowing that would be the likely outcome?" he said.

Ross said the department will shift where it is deploying police officers and will increase overtime hours, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

Also alarming are firearms arrests, Ross said. So far in 2019, police have made 820 arrests for firearm violations, almost double the 464 arrests at the same point in 2015, he said.

The numbers suggest a lack of fear of the consequences to carrying a gun in Philadelphia, Ross said.

In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said he strongly shares lawmakers' concerns, and called the violence in Philadelphia over the weekend "disturbing and horrifying."

Wolf agrees that more can be done, his office said, and plans to take it up with city and state officials.

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Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.