Crime Blocks: Jasper Street’s Unfriendly Boast
Harrowgate’s section of Jasper, the site of shootings, drug dealing and intimidation
Last November a rap video surfaced on YouTube that illustrated drug dealing, gun toting and firearm shooting in the Harrowgate section of Philadelphia. The video was posted by a group who calls Jasper and Tioga Streets their home. Music, after all, often offers a reflection of an artist’s reality.
The comments below the video range from apparent former residents asking “WTF did you do to my neighborhood,” to other posts threatening the rappers with, “[Talk that] shit til we pop up at [your] crib [gun emoji].” But these posted warnings and threats are nothing compared to what residents who speak out against the drug dealers they face each day on their blocks.
The witness intimidation on Jasper Street used to just be inferred. It basically consisted of outloud, public conversations about what happens to people who talk to the cops and brief hard looks following handshake sales in open daylight. Occasionally, a dealer would pull up his shirt to reveal a handgun in his waistband. You all know the classic adage about snitches.
But the main source of intimidation used to terrorize residents of this part of Harrowgate was the constant shootings: dealers shooting at other dealers on the corners, shooting at the houses of known dealers, running down the street and shooting at people who came into the neighborhood. It’s just guns-a-blazing, according to several neighbors who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
In one shooting scene, as described by Harrowgate Civic President Shannon Farrell, a crowd of people at Jasper and Atlantic Streets started running at the first sound of pops. Parents scooped their kids up and took cover, older folks ducked back into houses. It was a Saturday in September at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Despite their fear, many of the senior citizens who live on the street have yelled at dealers to pick up their trash or to move along. Most of the time the dealers actually comply, but while they’ll pick up what they’d tossed, they usually don’t move far.
Some neighbors, growing tired of being prisoners in the home they raised their families in, have started collectively pushing back against the dealers in recent months.
One woman, after hearing from police and the District Attorney’s office that more pictures and information about any illegal operations would speed up assistance, took a picture of a dealer and said to him, “Say cheese, asshole, ‘cause I’m taking your picture.”
Unfortunately, it led to a bit of an escalation to the “no snitchin’” tactics.
“I’m gonna shoot you.”
A dealer screamed from the middle of the street at a long-time resident of 3500 Jasper Street. The peddler explained that he once scared a woman from Joyce Street so bad that “she moved to the Northeast.” In the days afterward another dealer threatened the Jasper Street resident’s dog. The 24th District police took that threat seriously enough to provide 24-hour police protection to the resident after she agreed to press charges.
Much of this aggression came on the heels of frustration surrounding a publicized walk around the neighborhood by the District Attorney Seth Williams, Councilman Mark Squilla and officers for the 24th district (This was one of a handful of scheduled walks that Williams organized in several neighborhoods around the city). The local civic group put out a flyer that the visit would be on the upcoming Wednesday.
So local dealers shut down operations for the day in anticipation of the extra attention. But the visit was changed to Thursday, causing another unprofitable off-day. The shooting threat occurred on Friday. The 24-7 police presence for the threatened resident caused even more business disruptions.
A few weeks later, while the Harrowgate Civic Association led a clean up of Harrowgate Park at Jasper and Tioga, Farrell saw a known drug dealer in the park and told him to leave. He replied, “you know, you’re making it hard to make a living around here. Nobody ever cared before!” After a brief back-and-forth, Farrell went back to picking up used needles from the children’s play area.
Last month, a special civic meeting was held to discuss the specific problem properties. In speaking with those in attendance, Assistant District Attorney Angel Flores told the neighbors that “caring” will be what it takes to get back to the way things once were in the neighborhood, before all the drug-dealing and related crime. He explained that “community-packed courtrooms” can have an impact on the judge when sentencing time comes around.
The most shocking thing for the long-time residents to wrap their minds around was how quickly things spiraled out of control in their community. While the dealing has slowly crept on to 3500 Jasper and surrounding blocks as a sort of overflow from the saturated drug sales on nearby Kensington Avenue, the number of peddlers was small. The dealers, being heavily outnumbered, basically kept a low profile and if you didn’t know any better, well, you wouldn’t know that there was any wrongdoing afoot. But as dealer numbers grew so did their brazenness.
Farrell points to several nearby Catholic school closings as being associated with a tipping point.
“The closing of Ascension, Joan of Arc and North Catholic” led to a flight of long-time residents, Farrell explained. Even just “one or two houses on each block” was enough of an opportunity for investors to buy up property.
The resident who is now under police protection said that the neighborhood was one you could “leave your door unlocked” while you slept and not had to worry about anything happening. She said it changed over the course of a year or so.
Real estate agents swept in and started offering “quick sales” and “cash for homes.” Residents, seeing more and more dealers and limited school choices, took the deals and sold their properties. The agents quickly flipped the places for a profit, mainly to suburban and out-of-state LLC’s.
According to Farrell and several of the neighbors, plenty of the landlords are proactive and their renters are a positive addition to the community. But others “don’t care” and are “happy to just get their money” because “they don’t live here,” said one woman.
One drug operation on 3500 Jasper uses one house as the “stash house” and sends a child to retrieve the drugs for the buyers when they show up. One neighbor who witnessed this concluded that it appeared as though dealers were using the juvenile as protective cover from law enforcement and that the dealers were paying rent for a separate building to store the product so they’d never be caught with it.
Another dealer, a female with two children, was removed from a property on 3500 Jasper. L&I boarded the property up, but the woman returned and kicked in the back door a few days later. The water and electricity was shut off in the home so she just dumps her sewage into the street.
Data obtained by The Spirit from Philadelphia’s Narcotics Division shows heavy drug activity and arrests in the area around Jasper.
There were 140 narcotics arrests made in the sector (PSA 1) that encompasses the 3200-3600 blocks of Jasper Street from July through December 15, according to a representative from Narcotics.
There were 10 search warrants served on those specific blocks for this year. Six were served by the Narcotics Field Unit, one by Homicide, two by East Detectives and one by Northeast Detectives.
Many more neighbors, particularly the seniors, want to leave now that quality-of-life is non-existent. But they’ll have little luck selling their homes due to the illegal activity. According to one neighbor, the dealers hop on to the porches of the innocent to throw off police investigations.
“How the hell can you sell the house with that going on?” one woman asked. “If [homeowners] really want to get out they’ll have to just leave and try to rent the place out. And who do you think’s gonna rent it, huh?”
The neighbors also note that when the police are called the dealers are one step ahead: They listen to police scanners via cell phone apps.
“They close up shop and hide,” one woman said.
The tactics the dealers are using make things difficult for law enforcement. The D.A.’s office can’t pressure the property owners without something actually happening on the property.
“Even though everybody knows that people are selling from the home… sometimes where the actions take place is outside,” Flores told The Spirit. For action against the property owner to be successful “We need an arrest, and a charge and then a conviction,” Flores added.
To that end, Narcotics confirmed that none of the search warrants executed this year were at the addresses The Spirit received from neighbors.
He said he understands this can “be frustrating” to neighbors but the city can’t go around the laws involved.