When I lived in an apartment on Green Street in Spring Garden across from the Roberto Clemente Playground, spring’s arrival meant the return of basketballs slapping against pavement.
Those were joyful sounds, signaling the end of another long winter.
I moved years ago. I miss the laughter and other sounds of a city park emerging from hibernation. What I don’t miss, though, are the late-night sounds of gunfire and police sirens that become even more ubiquitous this time of year. Higher temperatures mean an uptick in violent crime.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier knows this. That’s why she felt particularly uneasy last Thursday.
“It was like I was sitting there waiting for the other shoe to fall,” Gauthier told me Friday. “I just kind of knew. I knew. I was waiting for something to happen. Because of what’s been going on and because the weather was warm … I just had this incredible sense of anxiety that it was going to be a bad night and it was.”
It wasn’t long before her phone rang. It was Capt. Matthew Gillespie, of the 18th Police District, calling to alert her of yet another shooting, this one at the Christy Recreation Center at 728 S. 55th St. Gauthier rushed to the scene in which a teenager, later identified as 16-year-old Kahree Simmons from Cobbs Creek, had been fatally wounded in the back of his neck. Two other teenagers — a 15-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy — also were injured. According to police, they had been playing basketball before shots rang out.
Just two days earlier, Antonio Walker Jr., a 15-year-old honor student from Gauthier’s district — was gunned down in Kingsessing while playing basketball with his cousin.
Then, Friday night, another teen was killed, this time at the Francis Myers Recreation Center at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue. It’s unclear what happened but police were seen combing the basketball court for clues.
Something has to give.
Recreation centers are supposed to be safe havens. Youngsters are supposed to be able to take refuge in them. It’s not even spring yet but some of these playgrounds have turned into shooting galleries.
We’ve got to do better.
Law enforcement needs to step up patrols at rec centers. Philadelphia is in crisis and it’s high time city officials started behaving like it. Homicides are up 32% compared to the same time last year. Philadelphia has recorded 100 homicides and we’re only 74 days into the year. We’re on track to more than break last year’s bloody record.
I applaud Gauthier for introducing a resolution last fall that called for Mayor Jim Kenney to declare a city emergency. The resolution also called for Kenney to, “develop an urgent, unrelenting response to the gun violence epidemic plaguing Black and brown neighborhoods in Philadelphia,” which clearly isn’t happening.
It didn’t get a lot of traction. I didn’t know about it until antiviolence activist Jamal Johnson began staging hunger strikes to draw attention to it.
After initially appearing to ignore the resolution, Kenney finally announced last week that he will start biweekly gun violence briefings on Wednesdays at noon. They’ll be open to the news media and streamed live from the city’s Facebook page. District Attorney Larry Krasner recently began holding similar briefings on Mondays.
They really should be weekly but at least it will be a chance to hold public officials accountable for the bloodbath that’s happening at city rec centers. I will make a point of tuning in. If you’re concerned about gun violence and the safety of children and others, you should as well. They will remind administration officials that we are in a crisis that really should be at the top of the city’s agenda just like getting residents vaccinated against COVID-19.
Playing basketball at rec centers is a rite of passage for many youngsters. They should be able to play without fear of being shot.