“You have a story, and I’d like to help you tell that story.” That’s the motto of the Gun Crisis reporting project, a nonprofit, open-source journalism organization that aims to change the dialogue on gun violence in Philadelphia.
The project’s founders, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim MacMillan and photographer Joseph Kaczmarek, spoke at an event hosted by the Haverford College Democrats on April 5.
According to MacMillan, over the last 25 years there have been some 10,000 deaths due to gun violence in Philadelphia. During 2012 alone, the city had 334 homicides, with 85 percent of those deaths due to gun violence. “There have been more people shot dead in Philadelphia during the Iraq War than US soldiers in Iraq,” said MacMillan.
MacMillan views gun violence as a disease. “Violence doesn’t just emerge but wells up when certain economic conditions are imposed,” he said. “If you impose these conditions on any community, you’re going to have the same outcome.”
“What if we could just stop people from pulling the trigger?” said Macmillan. “We need to change people’s minds and change their behaviors in order to stop the transmission of gun-violence.”
But it’s difficult to change people’s minds and behaviors in an area where shootings have become normalized, Macmillan says, due in part to how the mainstream media reports violent crime.
Macmillan says reporters arriving at a crime scene will see a cluster of police officials on one side and a group of neighbors on the other, and often opt to just interview the police before filing a story. In ninety-seven percent of cases, the “investigation” stops there. He says daily stories will report how many people were shot and in what part of the city, reducing victims to numbers and statistics. When the public is inundated with such news regularly, how can they change their outlook on gun-violence?
The volunteer reporters at Gun Crisis post photos from crime scenes around the Philadelphia community on the organization’s website. Unlike other news outlets, Gun Crisis sheds light on the long-lasting devastation that gun violence can inflict on an individual, family and community. Reporters at Gun Crisis, who are often members of the communities they work with, talk directly with victim’s families to share their story, taking into account the details of their experiences.
Macmillan and Kaczmarek say so far, the response from families has been overwhelming positive. Many visitors come to Gun Crisis looking for details of a shooting or the names of victims before the police report is released.
In photographing crime scenes, Kaczmarek says it can be difficult to approach grieving families. At times, he will observe the scene silently for an hour or until he feels it’s appropriate to start asking questions and taking photos.
The website also invites its readers to participate in discussions centered on gun violence and provides many resources focusing on finding solutions to this major problem.
MacMillan has strong opinions on how Americans can change the dialogue about gun violence. He expressed that by taking a solutions-oriented approach to gun violence, we can get away from a polarizing debate on gun-control and focus on the real issue at hand, which is reducing the demand for guns. By looking at this as “a problem of demand and not supply,” MacMillan said, we can avoid any debates about constitutionality and focus on humanity.
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