Samir Hill said he’s helped organize a basketball tournament in Overbrook for nine years, providing a venue to gather, play pickup hoops, and cook out in the height of summer.
But after this year’s celebration was cut short by a mass shooting that wounded seven people Saturday night, Hill, 25, said Monday that he was “shocked” that police officers had not shown up to monitor the festivities — and worried that the shooting could harm the reputation of an event designed to bring people together.
“I’m trying to do good in the community,” Hill said. “Now it’s just going to be hard for me to do anything [similar].”
The shooting at Baker Playground on Saturday, allegedly by two gunmen who remained at large, marked the second time in a month that an outdoor gathering in Philadelphia had been broken up by bullets, and the fourth time since 2015 that six or more people had been wounded at a community celebration in the city.
Philadelphia hosts thousands of block parties and park celebrations a year, the vast majority without incident, and Streets Department officials last year reversed a policy requiring potential block party hosts to get preapproved by police after that directive was widely criticized as unnecessary and overly restrictive.
Police have not announced arrests in either of this year’s mass shootings, and have said only that they are examining how and why Saturday’s event was not monitored. Hill received a city permit for it, and he said Monday that he called the 19th Police District on Saturday to remind cops about it.
Mayor Jim Kenney said Monday that he was “obviously” concerned about making sure outdoor events can occur peacefully, and said the Police Department would expand its presence at future gatherings and work with other city agencies to ensure sufficient coverage.
Still, Kenney said policing was not necessarily a comprehensive answer: “I can’t guarantee the presence of one or two police officers at that event would’ve stopped those two coldhearted people from doing what they did.”
Across the city, five more people were shot in four unrelated episodes between midnight and 5 a.m. Monday, police said. In one shooting in Kensington, a 29-year-old man was killed during an argument after a car accident.
That tally, police said, brought the total to 730 people shot in the city this year, about 3 percent more than at the same point last year. Homicides also were up 5 percent over last year, police statistics say, while overall violent crime — which has reached decades-long lows in recent years — was up about 2 percent.
In Overbrook on Monday, the weekend’s mass shooting was fresh in people’s minds.
Erma Jones, 78, was not far from the playground when the gunfire broke out. She said she could not recall a similar incident.
“You just have to hold your children and grandchildren close and watch them,” she said. “And not only do you have to pray about the situation, but you have to pray that the officials will do something about it. I mean, these guns! [People] get their hands on guns like they get their hands on candy.”
At the playground Monday, Patricia Bevins-Moye, 62, leaned on a walker and slowly climbed the steps with her grandchildren Hassan Bevins, 10, and Andrea Bevins, 12. She would have been at the playground during the shooting if not for a last-minute change in plans. “Why did it happen?” she asked plaintively.
Andrea, who will be a seventh grader in the fall at Mastery Charter School, Shoemaker Campus, said: “I still feel safe, but it’s sad. It’s out of the normal for that to happen around here."
The shooting was one of four cases in the city since 2015 in which six or more people have been wounded by gunfire.
In June 2015, 10 people — including a toddler and two children — were wounded when gunmen opened fire at a cookout on the 4100 block of Ogden Street in West Philadelphia.
In May 2017, nine were injured when two gunmen opened fire on people attending an outdoor graduation party on 23rd Street in North Philadelphia.
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Philadelphia has been referred to as the block party capital of the East Coast, and last year, more than 4,200 block party applications were submitted, said Patrick O’Donnell of the Streets Department. The Parks and Recreation Department received another 3,400 event applications, a spokesperson said.
Such gatherings are not only a time-honored tradition in the city, but police often believe they can be a way to mitigate violence — and cops sometimes host them in an attempt to build community trust.
Demarcus Waites, 49, who attended Saturday’s event, said ensuring safety at community parties is not solely the responsibility of police.
“It’s a collective effort from everyone,” he said.