Gun Violence Epidemic Plagues North Philadelphia
“It’s unacceptable, and it’s intolerable.”
Those were Representative Curtis Thomas’s words at a community meeting on Friday, June 9th, as he deplored a recent spike in gun violence, which has seen 33 people shot in the north central Philadelphia area just in the last 30 days, including nine hit at 23rd and Huntingdon streets in a single incident. “There’s this climate of lawlessness,” Thomas said.
“I mean, any time you want to shoot dad, and you shoot a two-year-old child with the dad, that’s lawlessness, that says something about an attitude,” he added, citing one of the recent shootings.
Thomas said that a stew of poverty, anger, and hopelessness, combined with easy access to guns which sees children being handed weapons by adults, has fed the epidemic, which he sees as getting worse.
“Many of these kids can get guns quicker than they can get books,” he said.
Thomas said that many shooters are not apprehended even though they are often local residents because “people don’t talk.”
“These are not complete strangers who are coming in to our community doing these things,” he added.
Thomas wants to see laws strengthened so that adults who give guns to kids are held “as strongly accountable as the people who carry out the act.”
He also wants the Public Nuisance Abatement Task Force, a program that allows Philadelphia to seize private properties associated with illicit drug activity, to be given the power to also seize public housing units.
Thomas thinks that, beyond expanding the jurisdiction of law enforcement, there needs to be more collaboration between law enforcement. As an example of where more cooperation would yield results he cited the area around Temple University where the Philadelphia Gas Works Police, Temple University Police, City Police, and Philadelphia Housing Authority Police, all have authority in close proximity to each other. “Temple police will not stop something right across from the university. The gas company will not interfere as long as it doesn’t impact Gas Works,” he said.
Finally, Thomas wants to see community organization to both make it clear that neighborhoods will not tolerate violence, and to funnel information up to law enforcement so that they can apprehend suspects. “I am optimistic,” Thomas said.
“I am reminded of officer Moses Walker, that was killed at the corner of Cecil B Morris and 21st. We responded to that right away with a rally,” he added.
Following the rally, the suspect’s grandmother turned him in.
Many suspects, however, are never found. Roz Pichardo lost her brother, Alexander, in 2012, to a shooting, during an armed robbery of his home. His killer has not been found yet.
“Over 48 percent of homicide cases in Philadelphia are unsolved. It’s crazy, you know?” she said.
According to Pichardo, she received no support from the city after the shooting. “He’s a Puerto Rican kid from North Philly, they don’t give a fuck,” she said.
After the shooting, she says her father was “consumed by hate.” He would constantly tell her that he wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.
One day, while Pichardo, her father, and the rest of their family were together, he excuse himself to go lay down. “He literally went upstairs, went to sleep, and never woke up. That was the end of my father,” Pichardo said.
Now, Pichardo works as an advocate, stepping in to help families where she sees the city having failed. She goes to drug corners to take guns back in exchange for gift cards. She goes around plastering the faces of murder suspects onto walls across the neighborhood. And she holds rallies, the next of which is coming up on July 22nd. “When we get to the very end of the rally is when people are given the platform to speak. I try to get families who’ve never said their loved one name out loud,” to say something, Pichardo said.
“When you give them that platform they can’t keep quiet,” she added.
According to Marla Davis-Bellamy, Director of Philadelphia Cease Fire, almost everyone in some North Philadelphia police districts, like the 14th, 35th, and 25th, knows one of the families who have suffered.
“This is a norm for some of our neighborhoods across the city,” she said.
Philadelphia Cease Fire (PCF) is a community organization, that tries to get in front of violence by working with at risk populations. “Let’s say John comes home from state prison. Someone calls us, John needs some help,” Davis-Bellamy said.
PCF will work with such an individual to come up with a productive and legal life plan to avoid him “getting frustrated and robbing somebody.”
Another group they work with is the families of victims of gun violence, who Davis-Bellamy said. “When someone is shot, someone is killed, family members are very angry. Often that escalates to gun violence again,” she said.
Davis-Bellamy wants to see more conversations around gun violence, which she thinks people are uncomfortable talking about because of its racial component.
“You take the criminal element out of it. People have made bad decisions,” she said.
“Chicago owns it. I think the notion of what’s happening in our city has to be embraced by everyone.”