The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration event at Enon Tabernacle Church honored the namesake’s life and recognized those who make a difference in their community Wednesday afternoon.
Yet, it took a decidedly anti-violence turn in the wake of a Tuesday night incident in which three teenage boys were killed and another injured when a youth spat resulted in Juniata Park gunfire.
At the event, which was the first sponsored by Mid-Atlantic Health Care LLC at the Cheltenham Avenue church, community service awards were presented to anti-violence activists C.B. Kimmins and Malik Aziz, Bread of Life Foundation President Lillian Daniels, Joshua Harvest Church Pastor Derrick Johnson and Ray of Hope Project Founder Raymond Gant.
Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams mirrored the anti-violence activists’ call to disarm.
Senseless violence on their minds
Acknowledging he “would not be doing what I do for a living but for the work, life and legacy of Dr. King,” Nutter focused on the fallen civil-rights leader’s call for nonviolence.
“We need to be champions of non-violence ourselves. We are one city, one community. There is only one Philadelphia,” he said. “When someone gets shot, killed, stabbed, robbed or beaten, each of us should feel the effect. I’m trying to figure out how to have a safer city. This is not the Philadelphia we want to be. This is not the city that Dr. King would want.”
The mayor deemed the Juniata Park bloodshed “a bizarre tragedy.” He said initial reports point to a beef between teenagers out past curfew, and spurred on by social media, turning deadly when the mother of one child told her boyfriend or husband to get a weapon, which he allegedly did. (NBC10 is reporting that the alleged shooter was the stepfather of a child involved in the beef.)
“We can’t find him but we will,” he said. “I’m angry. It’s incomprehensible. It’s insane.” (Update: The alleged shooter, Axel Barreto, 30, would be arrested by city police and the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force about seven hours later at a Knights Inn in Bensalem.)
Calls for nonviolence
The event, during which comedian and Richard Allen Projects native Bill Cosby called in and railed against those who sit on the sidelines apathetically rather than join the fight, came five days before a holiday focusing community service and volunteerism.
Nutter, who would later visit the schools that the victims attended, noted that it’s “not just a day off. It has to be a day about non-violence.”
Then, he asked, “Can we be non-violent for just one day in this city?”
After railing against a wealth of illegal guns and dearth of parental concern throughout the city’s violence-plagued areas, the district attorney was asked whether he thought that was a possibility.
“I hope so. It kills me every time my BlackBerry goes off” with reports of more violence, Williams said.
Kimmins said he and Aziz, a gang-intervention specialist, started pondering the possibility while still sitting on the Enon stage.
“We’re already talking about an event, maybe a march on MLK Drive,” said Kimmins, who has long fought the scourge of violence and drugs citywide. “We’re going to ask all the young guys prone to violence, to retaliation, to concentrate on doing something non-violent. Let’s not grab a gun, knife, or a bat. Let’s do something verbal. I think we could do it.”
Aziz concurred, but conceded that one non-violent day amid violent days “doesn’t do anything.”
“We got to push it. We can’t just say it,” Aziz noted. “We got to hit the spots where the violence is occurring.”