‘Mad or nah?’: Philly residents react to recent violence at SEPTA stations

Tamara Russell hit the streets to talk to Philadelphians about SEPTA and their perceptions of safety within the transit system.

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A rider descends the stairs to the 15th Street subway station, across the street from City Hall. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A rider descends the stairs to the 15th Street subway station, across the street from City Hall. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Two violent crimes at one train station. That’s the news out of SEPTA’s City Hall station where a man was shot on a train platform just feet from where a SEPTA worker was brutally beaten a week earlier in an attack captured on video and shared by the transit union.

These tragic events follow a mass shooting outside the Olney Transportation Center last month that left eight people injured and reports of increasingly dangerous working conditions from SEPTA employees.

Just Monday, police reported a stabbing at the Frankford Transportation Center.

As the host of the woman-on-the-street interview series “Mad or Nah?” I asked people for their reactions to the news.

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“The media is now seeing what we have always seen. Y’all late,” said Matthew, a North North Philadelphia resident.

As I kept asking people if they are mad about the violence on SEPTA, one thing I took away was that many people don’t blame the transit agency for what’s happening. Instead, they point fingers at elected officials.

Jess, a South Philadelphia resident, told me that she is mad — and not only about the city’s gun violence crisis and the subway’s lack of immunity to it.

“Not only do I not feel safe, but let’s not forget SEPTA is not the cleanest place either during this time,” she said.

The more I asked residents if they felt comfortable on SEPTA, the more I heard residents talk about unsafe hazards such as the over-collection of trash and debris, noticeably unpleasant aromas and bodily fluids, as well as the lack of sanitation precautions in general. Just this week, Somerset Station in Kensington closed temporarily so SEPTA can repair elevators damaged by urine and needles.

Samuel from North Philadelphia expressed concerns about the system becoming a shelter for unhoused people at a time when Philadelphia is experiencing an affordability crisis. He said he wants to see more people trained to keep people safe at stations to help improve public safety for everyone using the space.

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Meanwhile, Solomon from Fishtown said the March 15 attack of a SEPTA worker was frightening.

Picture punching a time clock for work and hours later you’re rushed and attacked by a mob of teenagers while on duty. “Why would I feel safe if the SEPTA employees are not even safe while at work?” Solomon asked.

He said the violence is especially unfair after a gut-wrenching year that left employees risking their lives to keep Philadelpians moving during a pandemic.

Yet this is not new to SEPTA or their employees. The agency plans to deploy 60 unarmed security guards along the system between 15th Street and Frankford Transportation Center along the Market Frankford Line.

Employees have long been on guard for violence too.

“We see some form of it almost every day,” Willie Brown, president of the Transit Workers Union Local 234 recently told PlanPhilly. “Never a day goes by that there isn’t some intimidation, assault, or thing of that nature.”

Mad? Yes, that’s a feeling many people here feel right now.

Rightfully, Philadelphians want to feel safe moving through their city and getting where they need to go.

But how to change the situation — that’s a harder question.

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