Ten miles from a chaotic standoff in North Philadelphia where six police officers were shot and wounded Wednesday, a handful of detectives canvassed a South Philly street, looking for information about a man who was shot dead the same night.
As they knocked on the doors of Bambrey Terrace inside the Wilson Street housing development Thursday, two 8-year-old boys, friends and next-door neighbors, watched from a doorway.
After a while, one waved a detective over.
“Why you knocking on people’s doors?” asked one of the boys.
“Someone got killed last night,” replied Detective John Maha.
“Well… we might can tell you the story,” one boy said.
Before the two soon-to-be third graders could say much more, the door to the adjacent apartment swung open and one of the boys’ grandmothers reminded them that they saw nothing.
Up and down the street, others said the same.
After cops left, a mom sat on her stoop, surrounded by her children. She warned them to stay close.
The night before, she had rushed out of her door to find her kids when she heard the gunfire and saw the blood pooling around the man’s head.
She hadn’t slept all night. Neither had one of her daughters, who kept telling her, “Ma, I’m scared.” The mother was, too. She’s asked me not to use their names.
“I’m traumatized,” the mother said. “We’re traumatized.”
She, like other neighbors, had been following the national coverage of the standoff in North Philly when she heard the gunshot outside her door.
By comparison, she noted how quiet her street was, no swarm of cops, no TV trucks.
And after the shooting, no sounds of children laughing or riding their bikes.
She reached the only conclusion she could:
“The cops’ lives matter and these kids’ don’t. It’s not fair.”
No, it’s not.
It’s never been fair that generations of mostly black and brown people have been viewed as dispensable, buried under the dismissive label of “everyday” gun violence — one I’m guilty of using in my own columns. It signals that the loss of some lives in this country is viewed as routine, expected. Normal.
It’s not fair that too often in this country the value of your life depends on your zip code, the color of your skin, or the uniform you wear.
It should shame us all that when these two 8-year-olds go back to school and are asked what they did on their summer vacation, they will be able to say that they watched a man’s blood stain their street.
And they won’t be the only ones.
Of course, the wounding of the most officers shot in one incident in recent Philadelphia history deserved our attention. But for many it also laid bare the disparity of whose lives are valued.
The day after the police shootings on North 15th Street, friends Laverne Lewis and Annette Harrison, who live on nearby Carlisle Street, couldn’t help but wonder at all the attention.
“Because this time someone was shooting at them,” Lewis said.
We might not be able to level the empathy across the country, but we certainly can do better by our own. If all lives matter, as critics of Black Lives Matter often retort, then that means all lives matter and we should respond with the same urgency, same attention, whether it’s a police officer being shot or an unnamed black man.
You’d think I’d know better, but despite all of that, I found myself being cautiously optimistic by some of the things I was seeing and hearing this week — a shared understanding, perhaps finally, that the cops and community were in this together, that what affects the community inevitably comes for the cops and that each side better start caring a lot more about each other’s fates, entwined as they are.
When on Thursday five more people were shot in Philly’s Ogontz section, two miles from where the cops were shot the day before, Commissioner Richard Ross and almost a dozen white-shirt supervisors were among those who responded to the second mass shooting in almost exactly 24 hours.
The shooting, residents who lived nearby told me, was typical.
That kind of police response was not.
“You get frustrated,” Ross told reporters. “Physically tired. But we’re here. En masse,” pointing to the group of cops in the street.
In his statements about the police standoff, Mayor Jim Kenney mentioned the Bambrey Terrace shooting.
“That incident didn’t draw national attention," he said. "It happens daily in this city and many others across the nation. But a life was lost last night — to gun violence — here in Philadelphia. And like so many other shootings, it goes unnoticed.”
He spoke too of recently attending a meeting of faith-based leaders who are concerned about gun violence.
“I told them simply, we are trying.”
I don’t doubt that. But we — and that means all of us, our elected officials, our fellow citizens, police, and yes, the press — have to try harder. We have to do better.
When I visited Bambrey on Thursday, the man who had been shot was still listed as a John Doe, per police.
“Do they know who he is yet?” the mom asked.
When I told her that I didn’t think so, she shook her head.
“That’s somebody’s child.”
On Friday, police identified him. Ammar Hassan. He was 17.