“People are still broken”: The lasting impact of Gun Violence in Philadelphia
The first production from the Credible Messenger Reporting Project focuses on three co-victims of gun violence who worked together to show the long-lasting effects it can have on friends, family and community members.
Maxayn Gooden — the team’s community journalist or “Credible Messenger” — is also the founder and executive director of the Woman of Valor Mentoring Program and founder of the Jahworld Memorial Scholarship Foundation, named in memory of her son.
Gooden was paired with former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and editor Chris Hepp. The video features Taj Devore-Bey, who also produced the video and Sahir Copper, as well as Gooden herself.
You can watch the video now at the bottom of this post: Emotional scars that gun violence leaves behind
It was a school night when Devore-Bey, then 16 years old in and living in Southwest Philadelphia, heard an intruder break into his home and shoot his father in the chest. His father survived but the experience had long-lasting effects.
“I didn’t really know at that time what being safe really was anymore,” said Devore-Bey. “I didn’t feel secure. I didn’t feel secure anywhere I went because like I said my home was supposed to be the safest place.”
He described feeling numb losing his joy after the event but remembers feeling as if he had to act like everything was fine when he went at school.
“My mom always referred to me when I was a kid that I was so joyful and this and that, but when these things happen to you it kind of takes that away,” said Devore-Bey, adding that today he still has moments when he sounds monotone and shows no emotion.
Now, Devore-Bey says that he constantly thinks about how his younger brother’s life will turn out and tries to prevent him from watching things that may be harmful and playing with toy guns.
“These things at a young age may seem innocent then but you never know,” said Devore-Bey.
While acknowledging that gun violence cannot be ended today, Devor-Bey said people should at least try to keep youth out of harm’s way by supporting things such as sports and community centers. He also suggested spreading more positivity on platforms with young audiences, such as YouTube.
Sahir Copper first witnessed gun violence at a very young age: six years old.
He grew up in West Philadelphia and was playing with friends on his grandmother’s block when he saw a group of men having an argument. Ten minutes later, a car passed down the street and someone started shooting.
“It just made me feel like the place that I’m in is not really as safe because I’m six years old and I’m already experiencing it [gun violence]” said Cooper.
His experience did not stop there. During high school, Copper lost his best friend Jahsun Patton to gun violence.
While on Thanksgiving Break, he received a group text from friends saying that Patton had been shot in Harrisburg. None of them believed the message at first but they saw the news on TV an hour later and knew for sure that he had been killed.
“That’s when I just dropped my phone and started balling my eyes out with tears, and I was literally crying for 15 minutes,” said Copper, adding that it was the hardest day of his life.
He said he felt numb afterwards. It was his first time losing someone close and to this day he sometimes feels the urge to text Patton and then remembers he is gone.
Copper said he feels like there is a target on the backs of young people because of how much violence strikes people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Philadelphia.
At the end of the video, Gooden shared her experience. JahSun Patton was her son.
She described him as a wonderful human and discussed how much more he had left to experience.
“He was 18 when he was murdered at what I thought was the prime of his life, getting ready to graduate from high school, play football; (he) just got accepted into numerous colleges.” said Gooden, adding: “It was me and my children against the world.”
Losing her middle child changed the dynamics of her family. For the longest, Gooden said it felt odd taking family photos without him.
“Every day that you live your life it’s like you got to keep going and keep moving, but it’s still like you know that piece is missing, and life and time keeps going on regardless of how you feel, and everyone else can kind of move on with their lives when you have to live forever with that piece missing,” said Gooden.
Gooden credited her daughter for helping her through the healing process. It was seeing her daughter be strong and still want to enjoy life made Gooden want to watch her as she bicycled or put up the Christmas tree.
In her team’s video, Gooden hopes people will see the real emotion behind gun violence.
“People are still hurting,” said Gooden. “People are still broken and people have to live with that person not being there for the rest of their life. It’s real.”
Note: Traditional standard practices in ethical journalism prohibit paying interview subjects. In an intentional and experimental deviation from these guidelines, the Credible Messenger Reporting Project invites our community journalists to compensate subjects for their time with the funding we provide. We arrived at this policy based on community feedback and in the spirit of mutual trust. Our funders and collaborators are on board. In this report, all three subjects were compensated for their time, including two who were also compensated for their roles producing this video. Credible Messenger projects that don’t include this notice were produced in adherence to traditional practices.