AS TYEMA SANCHEZ of Northern Liberties got dressed yesterday morning, she carefully considered which purse to carry.
Given the recent spate of purse-snatch shootings, she wondered whether she should carry her Louis Vuitton with the short straps. Under the circumstances, maybe a wiser choice was the brown Marshalls knockoff with the long strap that goes across her chest and keeps her hands free. Better yet, perhaps the smartest thing was not to carry a pocketbook at all and instead tuck her money into her bra. Anything's better than toting around what she's begun referring to as a "death ticket."
Women across the city are having similar conversations with themselves lately, as Philadelphia reels from yet another senseless purse snatching/homicide. The latest happened early Sunday as two women left the Tropical Heat nightclub at 53rd and Market streets following a night of karaoke. Two men in hooded sweatshirts confronted the women about 2:35 a.m., took their handbags, then opened fire, killing Melissa Thomas, 29, and injuring her friend.
All because of a damn handbag.
"She gave it up and she still was killed," said Sanchez, 40, an administrative assistant. "It's 2:40 in the morning. She's just coming out of the bar. At 2-something in the morning, they probably didn't have that much cash on them.
"Where are our men? Why are they not protecting us?" Sanchez continued, her voice full of frustration. "Men are failing us. I feel as though we are not being protected."
Like a lot of us, she's hot as hell about what's been happening. Sanchez, though, is turning her outrage into action by reaching out to other local women, urging them to gather with her at 9 a.m. Saturday at the site where Thomas was killed, to call on city officials and also on their communities to protect them. The demonstration is being billed as "Handbags 4 Peace."
"This should be about women saying enough is enough," said Mannwell Glenn, a political consultant advising Sanchez on Saturday's event. "When women get pissed, they get things done."
He pointed out that the old code of the streets, that thieves don't hurt women and children, is no longer honored.
"This new generation, they don't have a clue," Glenn said disgustedly.
In the past two months, according to police, three women have been shot by thieves over their pocketbooks. And Thursday, a man was shot chasing men who snatched his girlfriend's purse.
"I shouldn't get [dressed] in the morning with fear that my pocketbook might be my death ticket!" Sanchez wrote on a Facebook page for an advocacy group she founded last year called the Pink Soldiers.
On Jan. 19, Amber Long, 26, was fatally shot after refusing to let go of her "death ticket." She'd been walking with her mother about 10:30 p.m., on her way to retrieve her car, when they were approached by two men.
One man reached for Amber's bag and the other for her mother's purse. Amber was shot once in the chest with a small-caliber handgun. Just 45 minutes later, she was pronounced dead. By the way, that purse she was carrying had been purchased earlier that day for just $14.
"It's like we're walking around with a bull's-eye," said Michelle Martin, who has stopped carrying a purse and now keeps her money and identification tucked in her back pocket.
"Do they think we are carrying around thousands of dollars? I don't. We have makeup. We have tissues," said Martin, whose Urban Racing School is just steps away from where Amber was mortally wounded. "I don't get what they think we are carrying in our purses that's worth so much money to them."
In Thursday's incident, a 24-year-old man and his girlfriend, 23, had just left his house on 26th Street near Lehigh Avenue at 11:53 p.m. when a thief grabbed the woman's bag. When the boyfriend gave chase, a second man shot him in the chest. He has since been released from Temple University Hospital.
In the wake of what's been going on, Sanchez has stopped carrying her iPad and laptop inside her oversize black Michael Kors tote for fear that they may be stolen. But come Saturday, she's hoping that demonstrators will show up carrying their handbags, designer bags and all.
"A handbag is a part of our accessories. As a mother, I carry my daughter's medicine, all of her personal belongings, her toys and everything she needs to get through the day," said Sanchez. "And honestly, if someone snatches my pocketbook, all they're going to get is a bag full of bills."
- Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.