By Matt Kass

It is no secret that Camden, NJ is plagued by gun violence. By May 2016, the homicide rate in the city had already reached 20 deaths – the majority of them committed with guns.

Commuters interviewed recently at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden often cited poverty as the root cause of the city’s gun violence.

Robin Garland is 54 and lives in nearby Winslow, NJ. She said the crime situation is out of control.

“I really believe that they need to come down harder,” she said, “because innocent people are getting killed, children. They need to give em more of a tough penalty when they go to jail for it too.”

A cross sits in a vacant lot with the phrase “Heal Camden” on the front. Photo by: Matt Kass

She thinks that in order to curb the amount of gun violence, you need to curb the number of guns flowing into Camden. In short, she said, just find ways to make sure that guns are not easily bought and sold.

Daniel Nieves is 26 and lives in Camden. In his opinion, there’s one big reason for the increase in violence – poverty.

“It’s probably the economy,” he said, “because people don’t have jobs. There’s not opportunities. Some people take the choice, they go sell drugs and rob people, and they don’t have nothing else to do, you know?”

Nieves also suggested opening facilities to help people find employment and get opportunities to escape the city and find a job elsewhere.

Rem and Charbel Wehbe are a pair of 24-year-olds who were originally from Lebanon, now living in the area. They said Camden’s violent reputation preceded it – even in Lebanon.

“I think it’s a high risk, high percentage” of gun violence in Camden, said Charbel Wehbe. “But I haven’t seen yet, anyone carrying a gun.”

“We only hear stories,” added Rem Wehbe “but we haven’t seen yet, anything that is that scary. But people warn us enough.”

When asked what they thought was the main factor for the high rate of gun violence, they both said poverty was the driving force. They were also both in agreement that job opportunities and free meals were the best shot for many residents in the city to avoid becoming victims of violence.

Salvatore Gotti is a 21-year old who lives in South Philly. He says gun violence in the city isn’t a new problem.

“It’s getting a little worse,” he said, “but I mean it’s been like this for the past couple four or five years. It just started getting bad now.”

Gotti also said some of the youngest residents in town are growing up with the constant presence of gun violence, which is leading them towards crime. And he says that unless they can get guns off the streets, eliminating gun violence will be almost impossible.

A sign outside the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, where most of the interviews were collected. Photo by: Matt Kass

Jada Simmons is an 18-year-old who lives in Camden. She is saddened by what she sees going on in her city.

“I think it’s sad,” she said, “It’s very sad, you can’t even come out the house without thinking anything’s gonna happen to you. You can’t live life how you wanna live because of the gangs and all this other stuff, like over nonsense.”

While she feels that cooperation would help to solve this problem, she also said that sometimes people just don’t want to work together, and as a result, meaningful social change doesn’t happen.

Samantha Lukens is a 19-year-old from nearby Woodbury, NJ. She was in town visiting her boyfriend, who lives in Camden. Lukens had a theory about why gun violence in the city is so high.

“I think it has a lot to do with them feeling like there’s no hope,” she said. “Like they can’t get out of this city, unless they do what everybody else is doing, which is you know, doing crimes to get money out on the street.”

As for what could be done to fix the situation, Lukens had an answer.

“I think it could be lowered,” she said, “if they tried harder to formulate more programs. Get ‘em out of Camden, that’s what I say. Get ‘em out of their comfort zone a little bit, because this is all they know.”