I used to live for summers in Philly.
It’s hands down the best time of year — July Fourth Wawa Welcome America activities, bicycling on Boathouse Row, attending events on Penn’s Landing, and concerts at the Mann Center.
But, like a lot of Philadelphians, I’m wary about going out these days. I try and avoid crowds now whenever possible. I navigate the city much more cautiously than I ever did before. Like a lot of folks, my head is on a swivel more now than ever. Too many shootings. Too much bloodshed.
It’s happening not just here but around the country — the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead; 10 Black shoppers were killed before that in Buffalo, N.Y. Things just keep getting worse. Not enough is being done to stop it.
It’s maddening that the bipartisan gun safety legislation currently being worked on in Congress still won’t ban assault weapons or raise the age to purchase them.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is all but doomed in terms of enacting its own gun safety measures anytime soon — at least if you judge by how things are going these days in Harrisburg. A state House panel just blocked another effort by Democratic lawmakers seeking to pass various gun bills, including one that would have banned assault weapons.
I don’t blame South Philly community organizer Anton Moore for canceling his annual Unity in the Community block parties on Snyder Avenue this year. Moore had planned to reinstitute the event — which typically takes place between 20th and 21st Streets — after a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19, but in the current climate, hosting a large outdoor gathering is a risk he’s not willing to take. The streets are hot. Tempers are short. Too many people from one neighborhood are beefing with people in another. There are way too many guns on the street. Moore doesn’t want to run the risk of any of his attendees getting hurt.
“I’m thinking about what could happen,” Moore said.
“I can’t run that risk,” he added. “I’ve been calling people and asking, ‘What do you think? What do you think?’ Most people say, ‘Nah.’”
Granted, he was leaning toward not doing it even before the mass shooting on South Street earlier this month that sparked international headlines and renewed conversations about gun violence. As of Wednesday, 228 people have been killed in Philadelphia this year. The fact that that’s an 8% decrease over this same time the previous year offers little comfort.
“I talk to young folks just trying to wonder what they can do to try and have a social life,” said the Rev. Carl Day, aka the “Pastor of the Hood.” “That’s pretty nonexistent now in Philly for teenagers ... They have their conflicts, and those conflicts spill out when they gather and meet.”
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson recently proposed temporarily changing the curfew for minors over 16 from midnight to 10 p.m. Although that sounds like a good idea, it raises a whole host of issues in terms of fairness, equal enforcement, and the criminalization of teens.
What we really need is to deal with the root causes of gun violence, which include poverty, lack of respect for human life, and a pervasive sense of lawlessness. Plus, there are just way too many guns. As we saw from the disturbing surveillance video of the fight that sparked the shooting on South Street, gun owners are often too quick to use them. When they do, there need to be serious repercussions.
The District Attorney’s Office’s previously stated position that “We do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings” sounds good, but it’s pie in the sky when you look at what’s happening on the ground.
“There need to be repercussions for those caught carrying illegal weapons or misusing legal ones.”
There need to be repercussions for those caught carrying illegal weapons or misusing legal ones. I agree with Mayor Jim Kenney who last week said that every shooter involved in June 4’s melee needs to face consequences, including the shooter who acted in self-defense.
As for Moore, before COVID-related restrictions were imposed, he brought in Trina, Meek Mill, and other artists to entertain residents in his neighborhood who couldn’t afford summer concert tickets. The activist, who was recognized for his service at Sunday’s Odunde Festival, really would love to host block parties again. Instead, he has a plan to take youngsters from various neighborhoods on a bus trip to Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown on Aug. 6.
They’ll be safer away from Philly.