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Addressing violence at Abbotsford

Grief, anger and frustration were the backdrop to Thursday night’s community meeting at the Abbotsford public housing complex in East Falls. But calls for positive action and neighborhood unity took center stage.

The meeting, held inside the complex’s normally closed community center, was organized to address recent violence in the neighborhood and start discussing potential remedies.

Abbotsford resident Rashawn “Shawnee” Anderson, 18, was fatally shot on Feb. 7, footsteps from the center’s front doors on McMichael Street. Hundreds gathered Wednesday at nearby St. Andrews Baptist Church for the Roxborough High School student’s funeral.

Philadelphia police have not yet made any arrests, but Homicide Capt. James Clark has said the late-night murder may stem from an ongoing feud between youth from the Abbotsford and Allegheny neighborhoods.

Most, if not all of the 60-plus residents at Thursday’s meeting, agreed that efforts to curb violence in the community must be led by the entire community, including Shawnee’s peers, who were noticeably absent from last night’s discussion.

“We got to step up. Everybody. Ain’t no little ‘I’s and big ‘yous’,” said Reginald Hall, a member of Town Watch Integrated Services (TWIS) who’s worked with Abbotsford residents in the past and helped organize Thursday’s meeting.

Officials with the Philadelphia Police Department, School District, Mayor’s Office and District Attorney’s Office were also on hand to listen and lead.

In particular, attendees talked about the need for residents to both re-evaluate and reform their attitudes towards violent crime in the area. Parents were urged to reinforce to their children the dangers that lurk in the streets. Men were urged to help steer them away from risky behavior when they’re out in the streets.

Tyisha Mincey, Rashawn’s mother, said community guidance is the only effective way to ensure the youth take such advice to heart. A tense and strained relationship with police, she said, has made many young men unwilling to heed suggestions from officers.

“They want to hear from somebody who’s been there, done that,” said Mincey.

But there was also a call for the youth to cooperate and speak up when they know something suspicious is in the works or when they know the culprit in an already committed crime.

Shannon Best, Rashawn’s aunt, said the unofficial ‘stop snitchin’ code has got to go.

“I don’t know who invented that code, but it’s the worst,” said Best. “They need to start telling and that’s the bottom line.”

Former Abbotsford resident Jermaine Wilson agreed. “People need to know the difference between snitching and taking accountability for their neighborhood.”

But Wilson and others added that there needs to be a place for youth to go after school. Several residents said they want the community center re-opened on a full-time basis for recreation and other programs, and not only when someone from Abbotsford gets taken away from them. 

Meeting facilitators assured residents that they are more than willing to be community partners and help where they are needed.

Captain Stephen Glenn, who heads the 39th Police District, which includes the Abbotsford complex, said he and his officers are taking the situation seriously.

“I just don’t want to be spouting out platitudes and things I think might make you feel good,” he said. “I’d like to take some practical steps, even if they’re small and incremental. I’d like to move forward,”

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison said those steps are possible and that change is possible, if the community truly commits itself.

“I don’t need a billion dollars to fix a problem. What I need is willing hearts, willing minds and willing souls,” he said.

In the immediate future, members of TWIS will follow up with residents and begin to develop a particular plan of action for Abbotsford. A meeting will be held as early as next week to start forming committees focused around the issues discussed Thursday.

There is also a plan to do similar work in Allegheny to start a dialogue between the two neighborhoods.

“Big Shawn” Anderson, Rashawn’s father, said residents have to be proactive and continue to meet regularly if they want to see things change. 

He said little has come from similar community meetings in the past. One was held just last year.

“They didn’t keep the ball rolling like they should have, but I’m going to make sure there’s a difference [this time],” said Anderson as tears trickled down his face.

“I don’t want anybody to feel the pain that I’m feeling,” he said.

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