This story is from Stop and Frisk, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting
How do you feel about stop and frisk (and policing more broadly) as an answer to Philly’s gun violence crisis? Get in touch
The 1800 block of Susquehanna, just a few blocks west of Temple University’s campus, reeked of garbage on a recent fall afternoon. A vacant lot was serving as a dumping place for piles of trash bags and discarded household items. Men stood on the uneven sidewalks, drinking from bottles in brown bags.
Reuben Jones, who runs a nonprofit called Frontline Dads in a community resource center a few blocks away, said shootings and home invasions are common occurrences here.
“There’s a lot happening,” he said. “That’s why I talk to community members and help shape a story. Who are these people? You see a bunch of businesses that are closed up. You see the elementary school right there. These are regular folk who want to raise their children and eat their dinner at night.”
This is one of the 57 Philadelphia blocks where 10 or more people have been shot since 2015, according to a 2021 Philadelphia Inquirer analysis of police data. The blocks are in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates and lower life expectancy than other parts of the city, the analysis showed. They are also in areas that were “redlined”, or marked “hazardous” or “declining,” on a 1937 assessment grades map from the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation, published by the city’s Office of the Controller.
The 57 blocks often come up when officials and activists talk about the ongoing gun violence crisis in Philadelphia, with many arguing that improving the quality of life in these underserved neighborhoods will help reduce the homicide tally — which has nearly doubled since 2015 according to police data.
This summer, a coalition of 50 or so community organizations came together with the District Attorney’s Office to form the “57 Blocks Project” and set out to create positive change in neighborhoods most impacted by violence.
Rev. Gregory Holston, leader of the initiative, said the group sees gun violence as a public health crisis and a racial justice issue. He said the response must be community-led.
“This a place-based issue,” he said. “While law enforcement has a place, we need as strong as a non-law enforcement way of addressing this.”
Their goals include greening vacant lots, subsidizing home repairs, removing trash, finding summer jobs for teens, creating group programs to help reduce youth arrests, and providing trauma-informed services from peer counselors.
The group is hoping to receive state and philanthropic funding, and just had a meeting with City Council to present their ideas. Another gun violence prevention collaboration, the Civic Coalition to Save Lives, also emerged recently to tackle the problem, spearheaded by philanthropies and business groups.
There are dozens of violence reduction efforts happening in close proximity to the 57 blocks, designed to try to keep those streets and the surrounding neighborhoods safe. WHYY gun violence prevention reporters have spent much of 2022 in these hard-hit neighborhoods, talking to community groups in place to curb violence about what’s working and what gives them hope.
Here’s a roundup of WHYY’s gun violence coverage around the 57 blocks.
Note: WHYY’s gun violence prevention reporters are interested in new efforts to tackle the issue. Get in touch with us.
200 South 60th Street
At nearby YEAH Philly, short for Youth Empowerment Advancement Hangout, young people have a place to do homework, cook, play games, and think about the future. The center teaches conflict resolution training to help participants learn to resolve arguments without violence.
Some YEAH Philly participants were also featured in Episode 2 of “Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist,” a podcast produced by WHYY and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting, which looked at the experiences of young, Black men interacting with police. Listen to all episodes wherever you get your podcasts.
6100 Market Street
A little over a mile from this block is the House of Umoja, a legendary nonprofit group that’s been striving to create peaceful communities in West Philadelphia since the late 1960s. Their new initiative aims to stop violence across the neighborhood, block by block.
Also not far from 61st and Market, the Community of Compassion CDC serves as an evening resource center for teens, so they don’t get caught violating the city’s curfew.
4100 Ogden Street
Just three-quarters of a mile from this street is the Philadelphia Masjid, where Imam Tone Barr tries to uplift his West Philadelphia community by hosting mental health-focused events.
4400 Holden Street
Across from Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, mothers of those lost to gun violence surround Saunders Park in a photo essay by photographer Kathy Shorr for Mural Arts.
5100 Haverford Avenue
The nearby Shepard Recreation Center is home to a number of programs including Positive Choices, which runs extracurricular programming to help young people focus on their career paths and their conflict resolution skills.
This recreation center was also the site of a mass shooting in August.
6000 Reinhard Street
Bartram High School, about a mile away, was awarded a million-dollar grant to improve security. The Office of School Safety will evaluate the success at Bartram High before expanding the initiative to other schools.
4100 North Broad Street
“Stop The Bleed” teaches emergency responsiveness, and many Philadelphians are training to combat gunshot wounds. WHYY reporter Sam Searles attended a class at the Nicetown-Tioga public library.
1400 Conlyn Street
Advocates and community members in Northwest Philly say red tape and poor communication remain the biggest impediments to making a dent in the city’s gun violence crisis. In the nearby New Journey Christian Center, Democratic State Rep. Stephen Kinsey and elected officials met with them.
1800 Judson Street
Around the corner from this street is the Martin Luther King recreation center, which serves as a neighborhood gathering place. It was one of the locations selected for the City of Philadelphia’s community listening tour on gun violence earlier this year.
1500 West Lehigh Avenue
The nearby intersection at 15th and West Dauphin streets was part of the patrol zone for “Corners to Connections,” a faith-based violence interrupter group that tries to prevent violence through one-on-one conversations, employment support, and community care.
2800 Bonsall Street
At Culture Changing Christians, Pastor Carl Day helps men who have formerly been involved in the criminal justice system get back on their feet with life skills classes and employment assistance.
2600 West Lehigh Avenue
A few blocks away, at Dobbins Technical High School, student Taahzje Ellis and his classmates are working with nonprofit group Urban Creators to expand community gardens in the area as a way to combat gun violence. WHYY spoke with Ellis for Episode 5 of Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist.”
1800 Susquehanna Avenue
This is just a few blocks from where “Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist” hosts Sammy Caiola and Yvonne Latty took a neighborhood tour with community leader Reuben Jones, of nonprofit group Frontline Dads.
This is also close to the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, which offers mentorship and other aid to young people.
The Fairhill section of North Philly/ The Kensington section of North Philly
200 East Indiana Avenue
In Kensington, playstreets are blocks that are closed to traffic so kids have a safe place to play. When the city decided against allowing playstreets in several areas with higher drug and/or violence, community leaders like Rebecca Fabiano with Fab Youth Philly stayed invested in local families.
800 West Clearfield Street
This block in the Fairhill neighborhood is near Fotterall Square Park, one of dozens of parks and recreation centers in underserved neighborhoods that are slated for makeover through the city’s Rebuild program.