The popping sound that echoed outside my bedroom window was painfully familiar.
I hadn’t heard that sound in years. But as afternoon gave way to evening, and the heat of a warm spring day began to dissipate, there they were. Gunshots. And they were close.
For a second I was bewildered. Then I sprang from the bed and dressed hurriedly. My son ran to the backyard and told my wife that the sound she’d heard was not a power tool, but gunshots. He urged her to come inside. My daughter peered out the window, curious to find the source of the disturbance.
And in the few moments it took for my wife to call 9-1-1, the peace we’d cultivated over a period of years cracked like a piece of porcelain. Perhaps next time, it will shatter completely. That’s why we must work to make sure next time never arrives.
I know the importance of avoiding the next time, because for me, the sound of gunshots is like an echo from my distant past. It is a past in which I chose the streets over peace, inebriation over sobriety, and chaos over stability. It is a past in which I suffered through drug addiction.
Nearly 21 years have passed since the last time I roamed the drug-infested streets of North Philly, trying in vain to smoke away the emptiness I felt inside. And still, few things remind me of the addiction I left behind like the distinctive sound of gunshots.
It is a sound that speaks loudly, telling us that no one is safe, telling us that hope is futile, telling us that no one cares.
I remember the horror of gunshots on streets where no one cared. I remember knowing that while I was neither shooter nor target, my life was nevertheless in danger. Bullets don’t bear names, after all.
I learned that lesson one night in the late nineties when gunshots rang out as I tried to buy drugs near Broad and Susquehanna. A bullet pierced my car just behind the driver’s seat, and in that moment, the difference between life and death was mere inches.
It took more than bullets to make me leave those streets behind. It took determination, and grit, and prayer. But most of all, it took a desire for something better.
I found something better when I got clean. I found my voice. I found my calling. I found myself.
When I found my wife, I knew I wanted something more than gunshots for her and our children. I knew I never wanted them to experience the helplessness of being trapped in a place where bullets are more powerful than ballots. I wanted them to know the peace of a still backyard, the joy of a clean, safe street, and the security of living in a place where police are truly there to protect and serve.
We found that on a quiet block in East Mt. Airy, and we, along with our neighbors, intend to protect it with every fiber of our beings. We will not be rendered hopeless. We will not be still helpless. We will fight back.
We will cooperate with our neighbors, hold political leaders accountable, and work with the police officers with whom we’ve formed relationships.
We have invested too much in this community to allow it to be overrun.
The gunshots must stop, and we must make them, because the most dangerous moment in the world is next time.
Listen to Solomon Jones weekdays 7 to 10 am on WURD Radio 900 AM/ 96.1 FM.