Jackee Nichols had come to believe the city had forgotten about her 15-year-old grandson, Rasul Benson. In October 2018, Rasul was gunned down at a South Philadelphia Gulf station while pumping gas with his friends for tip money to buy a cheesesteak.
On Thursday morning, Nichols finally received the answer she had been waiting for when an investigator working with the Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force called to tell her a man had been arrested and another was being sought for Benson’s slaying as part of a sweep of nine suspects involved in a gang-fueled turf war between 2016 and 2020.
“I truly believe in justice, so I was just waiting for this day — but I had lost hope,” said Nichols, 57, a devout Muslim. “I feel like I have been through the valley. Today is a good day.”
The arrest of Hanef Wilkins, 20, in the killing of Nichols’ grandson was the result of a four-year investigation, according to District Attorney Larry Krasner. Local officers banded together with agents from the state Attorney General’s Office to focus on an intergenerational conflict between two warring factions of young men from neighborhoods just four blocks apart.
More than 40 people were wounded in the feud, and three were killed, including Benson — an unintended target that was not involved in the feud — and Nasir Livingston, a 17-year-old gunned down in December 2017 inside a Chinese takeout restaurant.
“We are not here because they represent this community,” Krasner said Thursday at a news conference on the corner of Etting and Dickinson Streets in Grays Ferry, the site of one of the shootings. “We are here because they have harmed the people in this community.”
Also arrested Thursday were Eric Woodard, 24; Javuan Parris, 24; and Aquil Collins, 25, according to Krasner. Another suspect, Tatiyana Bland, was arrested by investigators for allegedly attempting to destroy evidence related to the shootings.
Five other men charged Thursday were already in custody for unrelated crimes, and warrants have been issued for six others still being sought.
The announcement represents the second wave of arrests against the two warring groups after Krasner and Attorney General Josh Shapiro unveiled a similar effort in 2019. At the time, Shapiro said the suspects escalated fights over “petty slights, posts on social media, and generational grudges” into fatal gun violence.
Assistant District Attorney William Fritze said Thursday that the shootings bore similarities: Most involved stolen vehicles, and some were committed with the same handgun. In many instances, Fritze said, the victims were seen walking in areas the shooters simply didn’t want to see them in.
“The culture has changed,” Fritze said. “The culture now is shoot or you will be shot. We have young people being killed for simply being from another neighborhood.”
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose district includes the areas where the violence occurred, said Thursday that the enforcement and arrests being touted by Krasner and the Attorney General’s Office are “just one piece of the puzzle.”
“Violence is traumatizing and terrorizing everyone who lives in these communities, which are being turned into war zones,” Gauthier said.
She called on city leaders to dedicate greater resources to the communities themselves, a sentiment loudly echoed by neighborhood activists and residents on hand to observe Krasner’s announcement.
Bishop James Darrell Robinson, of the Yesha Ministries Worship Center, said the violence didn’t begin with the men arrested Thursday, and it won’t end until the city helps address the impact that decades of violence has had on this population.
“These problems didn’t start with the culprits,” Robinson said. “The culprits are victims themselves.”