Tag Archives: gun violence

Homicide Database Paints a Fuller Picture of Gun Violence in Delaware County

This article originally appeared in Swarthmore News & Events.

It’s considered an epidemic in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20,000 deaths in 2020 alone, as it tears through communities and tears families apart, especially in low-income and urban areas.

Yet unlike the global pandemic, this public health issue — gun violence — receives relatively little public attention, aside from the high-profile mass shootings that dominate headlines. And specific details about these crimes can also be hard to come by, making it difficult for advocates to get the support their communities need. 

Working to fill in those gaps, Swarthmore students have developed an interactive map that tracks all gun deaths in the College’s surrounding communities. Created under the guidance of Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Homicide Database aims to assist in the prevention of gun violence while telling a fuller story of the effects of firearms.

Dashboard of the Delaware County Homicide Database

The project is a peacebuilding effort in partnership with local anti-violence groups, says Smithey, who is also coordinator of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program. Although crime statistics are readily available from law enforcement agencies, he says, they are rarely presented in a way that’s easy for the public to process. By utilizing the College’s technological and scholarly resources, the students served as research assistants for these community groups, supporting them in their advocacy.

“One of the most rewarding things about this project,” Smithey says, “has been getting connected with gun violence prevention groups,” including Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, co-founded by Robin Lasersohn ’88 and her husband, Terry Rumsey, and Women of Strength United for Change. “We felt it was important to learn from others who have been working locally on this problem.”

Prof. Lee Smithey

For the database, students downloaded homicide information from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and then cross-checked their findings against local news reports to glean further details about each case, such as victims’ names and where the shootings happened. Database users can search gun deaths in Delaware County going back to 2005, while filtering by such demographics as victims’ age, sex, and race, and applying map overlays including median income per area. 

The database was developed over five nonconsecutive semesters as part of Smithey’s Gun Violence Prevention course, which explores firearms from the perspective of public health, policy, law enforcement, advocates, and even gun enthusiasts. Community partners and survivors of gun violence are frequent guest speakers in the course, often sharing how they’ve been personally affected by firearms.

“For me, the course was really about humanizing both the living and, unfortunately, deceased victims of gun violence,” says Aleina Dume ’23, a sociology and educational studies major from Queens, N.Y. One speaker, Beverly Wright — a mother from Chester who lost her son to gun violence — made a particular impact on Dume: “Hearing her story but also about her grassroots activism really helped me remember that these are lives that we’re entering into this database,” she says. “We might not know this person’s name, but that just speaks to how important the work is.”

After consulting with community members like Wright, Smithey’s students decided against using pinpoints for each death in the database, so as not to reduce each victim to a statistic. Instead, the information is presented as a heat map, with areas growing more saturated in color as the number of cases increases.

“When I look at that map, I probably tend to see it as a sociologist first, and I start thinking about proximity to the interstate, the income level in these various neighborhoods, etc.,” Smithey says. But for residents of areas where gun violence is prevalent, he says, “they see a mosaic of stories and individuals and people, and they know that many of these homicide events are related to one another. It opened our eyes to how this is going to tell a different story to different people.”

Smithey expects the database to be useful not only to violence-prevention groups, but also to trauma surgeons, public health workers, and local governments. The ultimate hope is for the database to raise awareness of gun violence, while helping communities make gains in combating the epidemic.

“I wrote a paper relating gun violence to the coronavirus because that’s exactly what it is: a public health crisis,” says Oliver Hicks ’22, a political science and peace & conflict studies major from San Luis Obispo, Calif. “Our gun violence problem is not limited to just the school shootings that have perversely normalized themselves in news headlines — it’s so much more.”

Delco Gun Violence Awareness Day walk and memorial in Swarthmore

As we mourn the loss of our lives in another recent mass shooting and as neighbors endure the persistent tempo of gun violence here in Delaware County, Heeding God’s Call will sponsor a rally and walk at Swarthmore Friends Meeting House on our campus this Sunday, November 4. You are invited to attend and show your concern.


Delco interfaith group to hold gun awareness walk and memorial in Swarthmore on November 4

Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, a faith-based organization, will hold a Delco Gun Violence Awareness Day walk and memorial in Swarthmore on the afternoon of Sunday, November 4. It will begin at 2:00 P.M. with a gathering at the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House, 12 Whittier Place, on the Swarthmore College campus, to be followed by a walk through Swarthmore. The walk will end at Trinity Episcopal Church, 301 North Chester Road. Those who have lost loved ones due to gun violence will be among the speakers at the closing ceremony. A Memorial to the Lost display of T shirts with the names of Delaware County victims will serve as a visual reminder of the heavy toll in lives from gun violence.  While, as a tax-exempt organization, Heeding God’s Call does not take sides in elections, it urges people to find out where candidates stand on the gun violence issue and let them know where they themselves stand.

For further information, phone 251-238-8550 or email contactheeding@gmail.com.

Delco gun violence awareness rally F18

Memorial to the Lost

The Memorial to the Lost will be displayed on the lower part of Parrish lawn on the  Swarthmore campus from September 18 – October 2.

Memorial to the LostThe Memorial is a T-shirt display that represents gun deaths right here in Delaware County from 2011-2015. There are 153 T-shirts, each bearing the name of an individual killed by gun violence, the date of death, and their age when they died.

Members of the college community are invited to help install the Memorial on Sunday, September 18, beginning at 4 pm. All are encouraged to walk by the Memorial at any time,  read the names, hold them in memory, and reflect on the toll that gun violence takes in innocent lives every day.

The Memorial is sponsored by Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence,  a faith-based and grassroots movement. Headquartered in Philadelphia with chapters in Pennsylvania and neighboring states, Heeding seeks to bring faithful and public pressure to end gun violence in our homes, communities and nation.

Co-sponsored by Swarthmore Students for Sensible Gun Policy, the Interfaith Center, and the President’s Office.

Gun Violence Prevention course spring semester 2014

“Gun Violence Prevention: Peace Studies and Action”  PEAC 077 will be offered again this semester, and spots remain available in the course. This community-based learning class will partner with local gun violence prevention organizations to integrate and develop knowledge about the problem of gun violence that can support their work.

Peace Studies and Action Spring 2014 publicity
Photo Credit: Jim MacMillan at guncrisis.org

Peace Studies and Action aims to bridge the gaps between peace research, theory, and implementation by encouraging students to move between each as we study nonviolent ways of conducting conflict and the challenges of developing and sustaining effective peace work. While developing a nuanced understanding of the problem of gun violence, we also aim to get close to the experience of peacemakers and activists by consulting with and visiting local peace organizations and engaging with invited guests. As a class, we will collaborate with local organizations to contribute to their work while developing our own research skills.

Discussion over course readings will also be emphasized. This course will encourage collaboration and active participation in delivering the content of the course.  The class will meet on Tuesdays 1:15-4:00 in the Lang Center Seminar Room (#106). This course has no pre-requisite.

For more information, contact Professor Lee Smithey at lsmithe1.  Download and display a flyer.

The spring semester begins on Martin Luther King day, and as on many topics, Dr. King illuminates peace studies with his vision for education:

Rev. Martin Luther King “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential. Social action without education is a weak expression of pure energy. Deeds uninformed by educated thought can take false directions. When we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be as armed with knowledge as they. Our policies should have the strength of deep analysis beneath them to be able to challenge the clever sophistries of our opponents.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go from here: Chaos or Community? (p. 155)

For a brief introduction to the problem of gun violence in Philadelphia, view this short video by Jim MacMillan, a founder of GunCrisis.org and former Journalist in Residence at Swarthmore.

Tweets from the Spring 2013 section of the class: [no longer available. See #swatgvp on Twitter for all tweets.]

Tweeting on gun violence prevention

Students in the course PEAC 077 “Peace Studies and Action” partnered with the local gun violence reporting organization, guncrisis.org over the spring semester 2013. In the spirit of “process journalism” that guncrisis journalists employ, our class made announcements, shared resources, and offered comments on gun violence prevention over the course of the semester using a #swatpsa hashtag on Twitter.

Most of the tweets have been bundled together at Bundlr.com. Recenlty, Bundlr featured our bundled tweets in their Education and Science gallery.

Peace Studies and Action Course Partners with GunCrisis.org

From the Daily Gazette

By Cristina Abellan-Matamoros

January 31, 2013

Professor Lee Smithey’s class, Peace Studies and Action, is partnering this semester with GunCrisis.org, which aims to provide a hard look at the gun violence situation in Philadelphia and innovative solutions to it.

“I think the College as a Philly neighbor, so to speak, can be a voice in raising concern about the epidemic of gun violence,” said Smithey, who teaches sociology and coordinates the Peace and Conflict Studies Program.

According to Smithey, the Peace Studies and Action course is designed to use peace building to bridge the gap between academic peace research and peace action.

Taught each spring semester, the course is meant to provide a service to a local organization focused on solving a social problem.

“It’s also a peace and violence problem in our backyard and in many ways we’re isolated from the gun violence in North and West Philadelphia,” he added.

Smithey said the objectives for the course would be to learn more about the program as well as understand the range of initiatives addressing gun violence in Philadelphia while situating it within peace and conflict studies literature.

Aaron Moser ’12, who interned with GunCrisis.org last summer, hopes that the class will educate students about what goes on in Philadelphia concerning gun violence.

“I hope the extra mind power and writing power of these students will allow the organization to have a wider reach to continue building a network in the city and around the country as well as to bring more attention to the gun violence in America’s urban settings and look for solutions,” he said.

The students will be writing journalistic style pieces that GunCrisis.org can post as content for its blog.

Jim MacMillan, co-founder of GunCrisis.org and Manager for Media and Social Responsibility in the Lang Center, hopes that the class will help him build a peace-oriented vertical on the site.

He hopes to encourage use of a “‘#phillypeaceplan’ hashtag to every communication on social media, so we can gather information and get an idea of what the community thinks we should do,” he said.

“There is an opportunity now to embrace the momentum across the nation to reduce gun violence and the human suffering in Philadelphia. The sooner we can expedite the process of ending this violence the fewer people will die, if somebody wants to stop the shooting we would love to work with them,” MacMillan said.

Spring PEAC course partners with guncrisis.org

In the wake of the Newtown, CT shootings and a renewed national conversation over gun control, “Peace Studies and Action”  PEAC 077 will partner this spring with GunCrisis.org, an open source reporting community developed to address the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia through online journalism and social media.

Peace Studies and Action aims to bridge the gaps between peace research, theory, and implementation by encouraging students to move between each as we study nonviolent ways of conducting conflict and the challenges of developing and sustaining effective peace work, like GunCrisis.org. Emphasis is placed on getting close to the experience of peacemakers and activists by reading autobiographical writings, visiting local peace organizations, and/or dialogue with invited guests. As a class, we will collaborate with GunCrisis.org to contribute to the work of the organization while developing our own research skills.

Discussion over course readings and exploration of peace studies literature will also be emphasized. This course will encourage collaboration and active participation in delivering the content of the course.

The spring semester begins on Martin Luther King day, and as on many topics, Dr. King illuminates peace studies with his vision for education:

Rev. Martin Luther King “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential. Social action without education is a weak expression of pure energy. Deeds uninformed by educated thought can take false directions. When we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be as armed with knowledge as they. Our policies should have the strength of deep analysis beneath them to be able to challenge the clever sophistries of our opponents.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go from here: Chaos or Community? (p. 155)

The class will meet on Tuesdays 1:15-4:00 in the Lang Center Seminar Room (#106).

The pre-requisite of PEAC 015 Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies has been suspended, so the course is open to all students.

For a brief introduction to the problem of gun violence in Philadelphia, view this short video by Jim MacMillan, a founder of GunCrisis.org and Journalist in Residence at Swarthmore.