Nearly eight hours locked out of your house. A blitz of armed police officers taking over several blocks. No buses. Day care centers on lockdown. Fear and the constant buzz of low-flying helicopters above.
Nicetown-Tioga experienced all of this on Wednesday. Then came the national attention, the judgmental tweets from President Donald Trump, and the opportunistic opinions of 2020 presidential candidates. None of these people had likely ever considered this neighborhood before.
We asked a few members of the Nicetown-Tioga community to tell us about their experience of their neighborhood, and the event that shut it down it on Wednesday.
Here’s what they shared.
Eric Marsh, co-founder, Stand Up Nicetown
I have been trying to process my feelings and thoughts around the shootings that have put my neighborhood in the national spotlight over the last 48 hours.
When I say “my neighborhood,” I mean three generations of homeownership, being the first family on the block to own a TV. I mean my great-grandmother, Mom Mitchell, owner of Mrs. Mitchell’s Beauty Salon on 16th Street, a black female entrepreneur. I mean graduating from Simon Gratz High, all my children attending Cleveland, Bethune and Steel. I mean walking through the house next door to where this all took place nine years ago when my wife and I were looking for a new apartment.
I’ve watched the slow, downward spiral of my community over the years. I first started my business in construction because I wanted to help my community be able to maintain their homes and appreciate the value, in both senses of the term. I recall when several nearby blocks, including the 3700 block of 15th Street, were regularly in the running for the “Most Beautiful Block” award in the early ’80s. I don’t come from the “’hood.” I come from a thriving, middle-class, black, working-families community that has been consumed by benign neglect, entropy, poverty, and disenfranchisement.
There are dozens of blocks across Philadelphia and thousands across the country waiting to explode like 15th Street just did. One man. Just one was able to grab national attention through an act of insane desperation. Six officers shot. Thankfully, none killed.
As thankful as I am, I am heartbroken over the fact of how far my community has fallen. How few remember what it was like, and how many have no idea what it was and what it could be if we truly had a real community.
J. Jondhi Harrell, the Center for Returning Citizens
Nicetown is primarily a community of hardworking families who are struggling to build lives for themselves. People in Nicetown go to work every day. They raise their children. They are concerned with their quality of life, quality of education.
Nicetown is just like any other community in Philadelphia. We have our challenges. There’s high poverty, high crime rates. But anytime you have high poverty, you’re gonna have high crime rates. That’s a given. If the economy of a community is controlled by those outside of the community, there’s going to be problems, and nobody talks about that. Where are the black store owners in our community? Why can’t a person get a loan to open up a storefront business? Why are there no community development programs with real resources, providing help in Nicetown? Those should be the questions being asked.
We see Maurice Hills every day. We help them find jobs. We do counseling. We talk to them about their responsibilities as young black men and how we can rebuild our community. That sort of reporting never gets covered. Not on a local level, definitely not nationally.
Kendra Brooks, candidate for City Council at-large
Nicetown is where I live, where I was raised, and where I have raised my children and my extended family. My neighborhood is filled with people trying to address the root causes of violence, including the absence of jobs, the trauma of poverty, and the availability of guns. We’re working to build strong relationships in our communities and highlight the resources for neighborhoods often forgotten by elected officials.
As an educator in restorative practices, I am focused today on addressing the trauma from Wednesday’s incident and committed to working with my community to build solutions to the violence we face that leaves no Philadelphian behind. I am thankful that first responders were eventually able to de-escalate the situation, a clear example that law enforcement can use de-escalation to avoid further tragedy and harm.
I will continue to work to end the gun violence epidemic in Philadelphia and across the country, including stopping the flow of guns into our communities and addressing the root causes of violence.
Anthony Dickerson, Outside
Well, I’m not shocked that something like this could happen. I know the area pretty well and the neglect that is basically in the area. Recently, myself and another colleague met with the Office of Violence Prevention in the city and we proposed an anti-violence program for that specific area, and we were told that they basically they didn’t have any funding. There’s really no investment in the area. We’re being told basically to stop the violence with conversations rather than resources, money and opportunity.
A lot of the people like him [Maurice Hill] and many others are locked out of this city. They are locked out of opportunity. They can’t find sustainable work, where they can sustain themselves, where they can make enough money to get an apartment or have a car.
You know, these guys can barely pay their cell phone bill. It’s always, always going to be. They’re always gonna look towards drugs or anything else like robberies, to make ends meet. That’s the only employment that doesn’t discriminate against them, it’s just hard for them. Even the ones that work are running into problems, renting an apartment ’cause of their criminal background. You know, so even the ones that are doing the right thing, aren’t into drugs, are still marginalized, and that’s never discussed or broadcast or on the airwaves. There are more people who are returning citizens doing the right thing than are engaged in criminal activities, but that’s not being stated. So there’s a lot of frustration.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass is hosting an emergency community meeting at the Nicetown-Tioga library branch on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 10 a.m.