Back in the day, the unwritten code of the street used to be that when it came to gun violence, women, children, and the elderly were off-limits.

“That was the general neighborhood behavior pattern," recalled Bilal Quayyum, an antiviolence activist and member of the Police Advisory Commission. “There were just certain things you didn’t do. If you violated that code in certain neighborhoods, you knew what was going to happen to you."

Well, that informal code of conduct appears to have fallen by the wayside, given the 34 female homicide victims recorded by police as of Sept. 12. Authorities aren’t sure why the number of female homicide victims has been rising.

Janis Walke was gunned down by an unknown assailant as she sat inside her car parked in the 3900 block of North 13th Street on Mother's Day. Her killer has never been found.
Janis Walke was gunned down by an unknown assailant as she sat inside her car parked in the 3900 block of North 13th Street on Mother's Day. Her killer has never been found.

I found myself thinking about this recently while scrolling through the Philadelphia Police Department’s new online Unsolved Homicide list, and making note of the women on it. Among them:

Talisha McLeod

Charne Smith

Teahonda Wilkerson

Tamika Walker

Monique Sheree Wilkins

Deborah McClendon

Jennifer Nicole Smith

Rickey Duncan, the executive director of the antiviolence group New Options More Opportunities Foundation, told me he has become sickened over the recent killings. He partnered with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Mothers United by Angels to hold a “Save Our Women Peace Rally” last Friday in the City Hall courtyard to draw attention to the slayings. It attracted about 100 people, mostly students.

“Every time the news came on, it was something else to do with another woman," said Duncan, 43, of recent reports of violence against women. “You take notice after a while."

"I think it’s the youth with no rules and no guidelines,” he said. “The older generation lived by a different set of street rules, and it was no women and no children. My age bracket and my generation, we just didn’t do that.”

The demonstration was a step in the right direction, but nothing will change until there are far fewer illegal guns on the streets. Also, people’s mind-sets need to change. We’ve got to start respecting human life again. Shooters are too quick to solve disputes with firearms. Surveillance video recently captured a shootout between two gunmen in Chester who were chasing each other around a minivan with no regard for children on their way to school.

“In the black community, we have lost our culture and our family values,” Quayyum told me. “Listen to the rap lyrics. Listen to rap videos."

All rap songs aren’t to blame, but I understand his point about how moral codes have shifted to where some people have no respect for human life at all. On Sept. 10, Crystal Roman-Benitez had put her 3-year-old daughter to bed before going outside her North Philly house, where she was fatally wounded by stray bullets around 9:20 p.m. She was just 23.

This horrific violence is tied to overall attitudes about the value of life. We don’t hold it in high enough regard. Too often, there’s a fatalistic “if I die, I die” kind of attitude. I get the sense that people don’t care about the lives of those they might be beefing with, and if a woman gets hit by a bullet, it’s like, “Oh well.”

We’ve got to instill in young people a greater respect for human life. We need to teach them to love and respect each other. We need to help them develop better conflict-resolution skills. We can’t just leave this to parents and schools. If that worked, we wouldn’t be in this sorry situation, where the city’s homicide rate was at 250 Wednesday, up 3% over this time last year.

Many things have changed for the better in this city. However, the disregard for old street codes that tended to shield women and certain others from getting shot isn’t one of them.