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The attack by teen girls on a SEPTA train shows how much rage some people are walking around with | Jenice Armstrong

If we have any hope of things getting better in Philadelphia, people need to work on their conflict resolution skills and learn to live together peacefully.

The mother of a high school student attacked on SEPTA Wednesday cries during a news conference in the Crane Community Center on Friday
The mother of a high school student attacked on SEPTA Wednesday cries during a news conference in the Crane Community Center on FridayRead moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

There’s just so much rage.

It’s seemingly always there, sometimes just below the surface. That was what I was thinking as I watched and re-watched that awful viral video of teenagers screaming obscenities then punching and stomping a Central High School student on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line on Wednesday afternoon.

I have so many questions. What triggered the girls to act like that? And most importantly, why is there so much rage? You see it a lot these days. So many people, it seems, are on edge, ready to fight. I saw it the day before, when two adults traded blows with a student outside Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Hunting Park.

Both incidents were deeply disturbing and caught on video. The four alleged assailants in the SEPTA case face charges including aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, and criminal conspiracy. One of the teen suspects appeared to be mercilessly beating a female victim with a shoe. As for the rumble at Little Flower, that was a disgrace, too. Parents spend good money sending their children to private schools, in part to shelter them from exactly the kind of altercation that took place Tuesday.

In the last several days, a toddler has been shot inside his own home; a man was stabbed multiple times inside a laundromat in West Philly; another was shot at Major League Cuts barbershop, at 51st and Market Streets, and an elderly woman was fatally wounded Tuesday afternoon during an attempted robbery inside a check-cashing store right next to a day-care called the Precious Babies Learning Academy Inc. Earlier that same day, Ahmir Jones, 18, was walking along Cecil B. Moore Avenue with his girlfriend when they were robbed and he was fatally shot in the chest.

Chad Dion Lassiter, of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, thinks it’s all a sign of the times.

“What you are talking about with all of these incidents is a lack of moral clarity and a decaying of society,” he told me. “People are frustrated on multiple levels and there’s a counter-transference of their angers and aggression for a myriad of reasons onto others.”

» READ MORE: District Attorney files charges against teens in racially motivated SEPTA attack

But what’s the answer? We’ve reached a high mark of 491 fatal shootings so far this year, a 13% increase over last year. Even though the situation has clearly spiraled out of control, it doesn’t even feel as if gun violence is as much of a top priority for city leaders as it should be.

News briefings and neighborhood town hall gatherings may help answer questions but they don’t solve the intractable problem of there being way too many illegal guns and so many shooters itching to use them. Same thing with pouring millions into grassroots community organizations. It could help but it will take years. Meanwhile, violence is out of control.

“It all ties into the Black-on-Black crime that we have in the country,” said Walter D. Palmer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching about American racism since 1969. “The Black Lives Matter organization, they blew it because they didn’t tie in Black-on-Black crime, which is an outgrowth of the post-traumatic slave syndrome. The self-hatred, it’s all tied into this lack of self esteem ... the impact and the effects of racism in America has been profound.”

He added, “People don’t want to talk about it.”

» READ MORE: Police, city human relations commission investigating attack on SEPTA train

Couple that with our overall loss of civility. We don’t emphasize the importance of being kind and getting along with each other. We lack compassion. If we have adequate food and shelter, we leave others to fend for themselves as best they can. We don’t always recognize how desperate and on edge some people are.

Even a minor traffic incident can spiral into something dangerous. A driver recently threatened to shoot someone I know because she dared flash her high beams. Philadelphia is a scarier place than it used to be. I think twice now about venturing into certain neighborhoods, especially after dark, where back in the day I didn’t.

Lassiter says we are in “an odd place.”

“No infrastructure bill will help with some of the stuff that we’re seeing,” he said. “There has to be a spiritual awakening where people’s spirits have to move from darkness to light.”

He’s right. If we have any hope of life getting better in Philadelphia, we need to work on their conflict-resolution skills and learn to live together in peace, even as we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties that come with that.

Absent that, we will continue to have chaos in our streets, around our schools — and on SEPTA.