I'M GOING to tell you a story about a Philadelphia mother on a mission to find her son's killer. Actually, I'm going to tell you yet another story about yet another Philly mom seeking justice, because I could share one every week and still not get to all of them.
Last I checked, on Nov. 3, only 74 of the 237 homicides this year had been solved. This city had 253 homicides as of Sunday, and you can bet the number of those solved hadn't increased by much.
We have a huge problem that needs fixing - that can be fixed - so once I tell you Yullio Robbins' story, I'm going to ask something of everyone in this city. But first, meet Robbins.
On Feb. 23, Robbins' 28-year-old son, James Walke III, was killed on a Germantown street in the middle of the afternoon.
He was supposed to meet a friend near Wayne Avenue and Seymour Street, but instead he crossed paths with a killer who pumped 12 bullets into him. The father of two young sons died shortly after in the hospital.
A neighbor heard Robbins' son pleading for his life as the shooter stood over him.
A nearby camera caught the person with a gun, but a hoodie obstructed the person's face.
Plenty of people know something, including his friends, Robbins said. But no one is talking.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It happens every day in this city. People see something and say nothing.
In September, I shared the story of Lisa Espinosa, another mother who relentlessly kept her son's unsolved April 10 murder in the public eye - because she loved him, sure. But also because she knew if she didn't, her son, Raymond Pantoja, would be just another number, another of Philadelphia's unsolved murders.
Even while publicly pressuring witnesses to come forward, Espinosa still wasn't sure someone would. But on Oct. 26, police charged 30-year-old Giovanny Perales with killing her son. She told me the witness who came forward couldn't bear to keep seeing the mother in the papers and on TV in so much pain.
"That's what I want," Robbins told me when I recently visited her. "I want to be able to look in the mirror and into my grandson's eyes and say, 'Someone paid for killing James.' "
Robbins met Espinosa when they were filming a 6ABC Crime Stoppers segment about their sons' murders. The two bonded and Espinosa counseled Robbins on how to get, and keep, attention on her son's murder.
When I went to visit Robbins, she clearly had taken Espinosa's lessons to heart.
Huge reward posters hung in her living room. She kept a notebook full of names she reached out to regularly, including homicide Detective Gregory Santamala, who is working the case. She showed me a video she had posted on Facebook of a march she and others held on the street where her son was shot, urging people to come forward.
Underneath, Espinosa wrote:
"Go Yullio. Fight, fight, fight for justice!"
Like the detective on Espinosa's case, Santamala said the majority of cases in Philly could be solved if someone would come forward. He acknowledged people's fears of being tagged a snitch, but said there are many anonymous ways to help.
So, this is where you come in, Philly. These moms are doing their part, the detectives are doing their part.
Time for the citizens of this city to do theirs.
Years ago, suspects turned themselves in to legendary Daily News columnist Chuck Stone instead of to the authorities. He held the criminal-justice system accountable.
I'm not necessarily asking criminals to turn themselves in to me, unless they want to. But I am asking witnesses to Philadelphia's hundreds of unsolved murders to speak up, to call the anonymous tip lines, to send police an anonymous email or text or letter if you want to go old-school.
Hell, call me anonymously (or not) if you'd rather - I'll share the information with police. Let's get these killers off our streets.
This goes beyond the idiotic no-snitching rule - it's about the kind of world we want to live in, the kind of city we want to live in. And I want to live in one where killers don't walk, where my fellow Philadelphian realizes that silence does not equal safety.
We can choose to think it's not our son, not our neighborhood, not our problem, but at this rate, it's inevitably going to touch us all the longer we remain silent.
So, what's it going to be, Philly? We helped get justice for one mother. We can do it for another, and yet another.
215-854-5943 @NotesFromHel Helen. Ubinas.