A little over a week after one of Philadelphia’s most deadly weekends, lives across the city are changed. That Sunday night, 30 year-old Nyeme Taylor was shot in the head at a Strawberry Mansion playground during a party. Three girls, six, ten and 15-years old, were also injured. The following Thursday morning, police arrested 18-year old Amir Jamal and charged him with the crime. They say Jamal and four other teens started a brawl with Taylor’s son, which turned deadly when Taylor intervened.
Deborah Alexander just got home from working July 4th as a bathroom attendant. Her son Amir Jamal sits in a jail cell, charged with murder. Alexander wipes the toilets, shines the sinks and mops the floor. She beams with pride talking about it.
“Oh girl! It’s one of the cleanest facilities in Center City,” said Alexander. “And everybody comes there because they know it’s clean. People come in and say “I never been in a bathroom that’s clean like this and smells good. This is all I hear all day long. They love it, and I love dealing with them.”
A single mother of four, Alexander sits in her tidy Strawberry Mansion home. Outside, girls play double-dutch. And a father lifts his son off the sidewalk, helping him tip a basketball into a milk crate with the bottom cut out. Alexander recounts the series of events that Sunday night.
“Amir wash your clothes and you take them out the drier and I’ll fold them for you,” she remembers.
She says Jamal headed out around 8:45. The shooting happened around 9. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—he worked his job at a nearby corner store.
“Then Thursday morning that’s when they barged in my house,” said Alexander. “That’s when everything went berserk. “He just came downstairs and they set him in a car. That’s the last I seen him.”
Police charged Jamal with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. He had no previous criminal record.
“Just senseless, senseless violence,” said Captain James Clark of Philadelphia’s homicide unit. He describes the tips that led to the arrest from the halls of police headquarters:
“Some people that were that were in the area that actually saw it and some people that heard through the grapevine that he was the shooter. I believe it’s an excellent case and I believe there will be a conviction in the court of law.”
Captain Clark calls the murder of Taylor in front of his son heinous. Commissioner Ramsey labeled it savage. Alexander says she’s not convinced her son committed the crime.
“I know in my heart that he didn’t do nothing like this. The media is doing their job. But I’d like for them to get to the facts. Don’t assume nothing because you can’t just jump and say that ‘He’s a killer.’ He’s not a killer. He’s not that.”
Neighbors share Alexander’s astonishment. They paint the portrait of a good kid swept up in the undertow of violence. Jamal shampooed his mother’s carpets, he went grocery shopping for elderly neighbors, little kids looked up to him. And in the last two years, after failing 10th grade, he had turned his life around.
“His brother graduated, so he sees all the glory that was given him,” said Alexander. “So he said, ‘Oh, I’m going to graduate’ and he put his mind to it. It’s time to be serious. This is your life you’re talking about. And this is what he came to. Straight As and Bs.
Jamal is four credits shy of graduating.
“I just want to get to the bottom of this,” said Alexander. “I want him to be free. I just lost my best friend. I feel like I lost my best friend.”
As for the victim, Nyeme Taylor, the children he left behind, and the girls children injured that night at the playground.
“If there’s anything I can do for them I would,” said Alexander. “They’re in my prayers every night and every day. Hoping they can just get through this like I can. Everybody’s hurting. Everybody’s family hurting.”