Men gather in Operation Hug the Block in Germantown with goal to reduce violence

A Philadelphia nonprofit is working to reduce gun violence across the city. Operation Hug the Block is trying to curtail what it calls "opportunities for violence" in Philly. It’s the first night for Hug the Block patrols in Germantown, where they honored a 16-year-old shooting victim.

"At this point, I’m desperate and the volunteers who come out here, we’re desperate," Philly Truce member Marc Anthony said. "We’re hurting with every tragedy we hear."

The men of Germantown are taking to the streets because they’re tired of kids killing each other. The most recent shooting happened just a few weeks ago at Germantown Avenue and Wister Street, where 16-year-old Semaj Fields was shot and killed.

"We felt like we probably knew him or his family and we thought it was important to give back more so than just teddy bears or candles," explained Justin Harris, with Hug the Block.


2 anti-violence groups team up for Hug the Block overnight peace patrols across Philadelphia

There is a new effort to keep Philadelphia safe and organizers are calling it Hug the Block. Residents and activists are taking safety into their own hands. The effort involves overnight peace patrols in hard-hit communities.

That’s why Harris started the latest patrols on the streets where Fields died to help even one young person choose a different path.

"To let them know that there’s a better way and to give them alternatives to what to do instead of following the drug dealers or the nonsense that’s going on. Maybe they could have some type of hope," Eli Williams, with K.A.R.E. Foundation, explained.

Rashad Wyatt, also with K.A.R.E. Foundation, remarked, "The kids don’t see the alternatives they got. They come outside, they see the negative. So, we think if we put some alternatives in place, maybe it will change their mind."

"They need to know that there are men out here who do care for them and it’s to help them sop this violence," Keith Brown, of Men Who Care of Germantown, said.

The men say they hope to serve as inspiration, not just for the neighborhood, but the rest of the city and beyond.

"These things are not happening in the suburbs, you know, these things that we’re going through aren’t happening in the suburbs. So why not Philadelphia?" Anthony stated. "Why not Philly be a beacon of hope for all the inner cities across the country and across the world, for that matter."

Harris added, "I think for a moment, they’ll think and that moment could save the life of whoever. Somewhere, deep down, they’re like this isn’t really good. And, so I think they attach themselves to us right in that way."

The Hug the Block patrol will take place every Saturday night at 7 p.m. until July 4th weekend. All are welcome to join.