The anguished text from a friend at 10pm Wednesday night had the terse feel of a dispatch from the frontlines of a war zone. “55 shots,” it read. “Now two dead. Things are unraveling quickly.”
The carnage was two blocks from his home, and his two young kids. A report in the Inquirer yesterday was heartbreaking, detailing a series of pleas sent from a neighborhood resident to Council President Darrell Clarke: “I am writing yet again, less than a month since my last email, to beg for help,” she wrote. “The situation on and around Wallace St. is escalating. 55 shots fired tonight. In a children’s playground.”
Three weeks ago, the woman had e-mailed Clarke after another neighborhood shooting. “The expectation is we should be able to walk our streets without being shot,” she wrote.
Combatting voter suppression is an important issue, but is anyone else cringing at the juxtaposition here? We’re in an existential civic crisis, and you’re talking about Donald Trump?
Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement—his heart goes out—and Clarke spoke to the newspaper. “We will continue to do everything we can do,” the Council president said, before quickly nodding toward a problem over which we have no local control: “The availability of illegal weapons.”
Both responses—Kenney’s and Clarke’s—failed to meet the moment. The city is under siege, with a homicide rate that has exploded by 32 percent this year—making us the second deadliest city in the nation. And, as I recounted last week, this is a trend that has long been percolating.
Since Jim Kenney became mayor, the yearly homicide rate has grown steadily each year: by 10 percent in 2016, 17 percent in 2017, 5 percent in 2018, and 6 percent last year. We have been overrun by chalk outlines and body bags, the vast majority of which contain young African-American men. Sorry, but you can’t be for Black lives and respond to this genocide with thoughts and prayers and handwringing about the legislative powers you don’t have.
Meanwhile, yesterday afternoon, I received a press release: The mayor and Council president, along with other luminaries, like State Senator Sharif Street and Congressman Dwight Evans, will be gathering today at the Octavius Catto monument to talk about the ways in which they have taken on Donald Trump and voter suppression.
Combatting voter suppression is an important issue, but is anyone else cringing at the juxtaposition here? We’re in an existential civic crisis, and you’re talking about Donald Trump? You know who would want you to instead move your press conference over to Spring Garden’s Roberto Clemente playground, and turn it into an expression of outrage and a public call to arms to stem the tide of gun violence? Catto, who was assassinated by a gun himself.
Sorry, but you can’t be for Black lives and respond to this genocide with thoughts and prayers and handwringing about the legislative powers you don’t have.
Of late, it seems that the only public official sufficiently alarmed by our daily drumbeat of murder and mayhem is U.S. Attorney William McSwain: “The staggering homicide and shooting rates in Philadelphia are proof that the district attorney’s radical experiment has failed,” McSwain said this week of Larry Krasner’s policies during a press conference he called to announce the bringing of federal charges against two defendants after the DA’s office mishandled its cases, according to McSwain. He also highlighted 10 other cases where violent criminals were treated with leniency by the DA.
McSwain can be shrill and, like Krasner, he resorts to uncivil personal attack. But at least he’s not practicing the old Philly shrug. In a time of crisis, his critique should at least be held up to inspection, no? I haven’t seen the evidence of a link between Krasner’s reforms and lawlessness, but shouldn’t we consider all possible causes and cures?
Maybe, just maybe, we need law enforcement to double down on job one: Keeping the public peace. Remember how, after the execution of George Floyd, Minneapolis City Council stripped the budget of its police department and voted to ultimately eliminate it?
Well, it’s two months later, cops have left the force in droves, and assaults, robberies and homicides have skyrocketed. There is a debate in Minneapolis as to whether the cops are feckless or intentionally de-policing, but either way, it’s an object lesson to beware of simplistic, ideologically driven fixes.
I’ve written before that we need to invest in smart, humane policing and police accountability at the same time. (Camden provides a roadmap). But that only happens if all those pols jockeying before the cameras today to beat their chest about standing up to Trump get their priorities straight. Young Black men are under siege on your watch. What’s your plan for that?