‘An excuse to be neighborly’: Philly officials call for unity on National Night Out

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Rashonda Pinson cleans a portion of the park

Rashonda Pinson cleans a portion of the park at 4th and Lehigh. (Tom Macdonald) WHYY

Taking place Tuesday evening is the 38th iteration of National Night Out, an event that encourages residents to meet their neighbors in an effort to fight crime.

National Night Out began in Philadelphia nearly four decades ago as a way to combat violence by building better relationships between neighbors and the police, as has since spread throughout the country.

Just before the announcement of the event in Kensington, Rashonda Pinson borrowed a bucket of water from a neighbor and started scrubbing a portion of Fairhill Square Park at 4th and Lehigh. She said it’s her way of doing her part to improve her Kensington neighborhood.

“I sit here and I socialize here. I hate to see the park this way because I grew up in this neighborhood,” Pinson said. “I learned how to ride my bike in this neighborhood, in this park as a matter of fact. Kids were welcomed in all the areas. Now, because you have so much drug activity and homeless activity, this park isn’t tended to on a regular basis.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a time of record-setting homicides, National Night Out is a way for neighbors to reconnect.

“As cheesy as it sounds, there really is strength in numbers,” Outlaw said. “It’s not only an opportunity to know who your neighbors are by name, and who lives where, but when we come out in numbers and in solidarity, it really shows what’s tolerated and what isn’t.”

Matt Peskin, head of the National Association of Town Watch, who has run the event since its inception, said, “Sometimes it’s not cool to be neighborly, but National Night Out is an excuse to be neighborly. It makes a difference.”

Gloria Cartagena is better known in the Kensington neighborhood as “Smooches.” She said after being in Kensington for almost four decades, “I believe in unity, I believe in bringing people together.”

“We need the love that brings people together.” Cartagena said, calling for residents to unify against the city’s ongoing violence. She added keeping playgrounds and other places safe for children to play will help.

Anthony Murphy is the head of Town Watch in Philadelphia. During the press conference, he said  instead of shying away from officers, city residents should “give police a chance to speak, give them a drink of water.” He said the relationship between police and the community is improving every day, and neighbors reaching out to police helps to build community policing.

Rev. Chauncey Harrison, of the Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia, said this is the first National Night Out event his church at Broad and Venango streets will be hosting.

“It’s an opportunity for us to come together as a unit, for hope, optimism, for a safer, more vibrant city of Philadelphia,” Harrison said.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks from a podium during a press conference
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw discusses National Night Out at a press conference on Monday. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Commissioner Outlaw said that at a time when the number of police has decreased from decades past, there is a need for police to work more closely with residents, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You have to use a wide net,” Outlaw said. “It has to be spearfishing. There are unintended consequences of disparate policing and some communities being over-policed because of that.” She says policing has to be done in a “strategic and intentional way.”

Outlaw said, “Oftentimes, residents know who the folks who are doing the graffiti … We can bring them home to their parents and it nips crime in the bud.”

She added that the police plan to have a presence at hundreds of parties throughout the city that are “designed to strengthen the police-community bond, which has been the aim of the night since it began in the Philadelphia region, and has since spread to a nationwide effort.”

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