Combating gun violence peacefully, Philly day camp emphasizes de-escalation

Combating the gun violence crisis across Philadelphia, head on. That’s the goal of an annual day camp in West Philadelphia, aimed at teaching students violence prevention and de-escalation.

"Just let them know what’s going on before you do it. Don’t start going and grabbing and moving around," Philadelphia Police Officer Ian Nance said.

Christopher Stith, with Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, is pioneering a potentially revolutionary program that pairs Philadelphia’s youth with Philly police officers as they learn how to handle life in the streets of Philadelphia safely.

"We are teaching these young men the art of bringing down a temperature of a conflict and ensuring that they understand picking up a gun is a last resort," Stith said.

The Gun Violence and De-Escalation Training day camp is in its second year and, in addition to the de-escalation techniques taught Friday, students got a hands-on demonstration by police on what to do when pulled over.


"I tell my sons the same thing, at the end of the day, I want you to come home. We can deal with whatever the argument is or whatever you felt was disrespectful, at that moment," Officer Nance explained. "We can deal with later, but I need you home in order to do that."

Officer Nance led most of Friday’s hands-on demonstrations. A father himself, he wishes to demystify these interactions. "We’re in a crisis situation, so it’s no pressure, no agendas, nothing going on. We’re not arresting anybody. We’re just having a good time with the kids and letting them interact with us."

Students say they walked away from the training with a completely new perspective of police officers, due to the time they spent in the day camp.

"For all of us, before we came here, we thought getting pulled over was nerve wracking. You’re scared and don’t know what’s gonna happen, because not all cops are the same," student Quincy Cruz said. "Now we met a lot of cops and a lot of cops aren’t how you think they are. They’re not mean. They’re nice and just way better people than you think they are."

And, for Stith, he says beginning with youth at their age is key to making generational change. "We’re trying to deter a generation of young men from even getting involved in the cycle of gun violence. Regardless of the cause, if we can stop the cycle, we can stop the problem."