On a ‘loving and caring’ Nicetown-Tioga block, neighbors come together to heal after trauma

Octavia Abney watches her son Dylan, 4, sit on a Philadelphia Police Department motorbike during the Love Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019 at the site of the August Police shooting and stand off in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Octavia Abney watches her son Dylan, 4, sit on a Philadelphia Police Department motorbike during the Love Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019 at the site of the August Police shooting and stand off in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Dylan Abney was apprehensive to leave his front steps on Saturday. Even a bouncy house, House of Gamez video game trailer and free food couldn’t tempt the four-year old off his North Philadelphia porch.

So Octavia Abney held her son’s hand as they carefully walked down the steps towards the party that had transformed his block into a festival. Dylan stayed close to his mother as he gazed around cautiously. He peeped his head in the video game trailer, and moments later, found himself sitting on a police officer’s motorcycle.

Octavia Abney smiles in the background as she watches from her stoop how her son Dylan, 4, sits on a bike during the Love Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

“Dylan was scared, really frightened when we first came out, but as you can see, now he’s wanting to go somewhere,” Abney said over the din of the block party sponsored by the Philadelphia Police Department. “So I think it’s working a little bit.”

The family’s Nicetown-Tioga rowhouse has been boarded up since August 14, when a seven-hour shootout with police broke out in the house next door to theirs.

The family was home when the siege overtook their quiet block. It was a trauma they never expected to deal with in the usually calm neighborhood. Eric Graham has lived on the block for 40 years, and said the August incident misrepresented their neighborhood.

Police officers interacted with neighborhood kids during the block party in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

“It’s a very caring and loving neighborhood,” Graham said. “it’s like, everybody looks out for each other.”

Graham said the tight-knit community was portrayed as an excessively violent area in the aftermath of the shooting incident. He said the event surprised him because their block rarely sees violent behavior.

“So it’s not like, you know, one of those neighborhoods that is drug infested,” Graham said. “Or that has a bunch of killings or a bunch of shootings”

Eric Graham, 54, a long time resident of 3800 block of N 15th St. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

A shocking event for a tight-knit neighborhood

But for Abney and other neighbors, it may take time to restore the block’s comfortability. Abney said her home is a daily reminder of the incident, and distractions have helped her cope with the distress.

“Anything to keep our minds off of what happened,” Abney said. “I find myself saying the more distractions, the better.”

Block captain Cynthia Muse at the Love, Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The block captain for the 3700 block of North 15th Street, Cynthia Muse, said creating happy memories is a step neighbors must take.

“Well, in the scheme of things, it is to have the community come together in a happy environment, in a happy space,” Muse said. “where, you know, it was traumatizing before.”

Cadets with the Police Athletic League arrive, with Captain America up front, to take part in the Love, Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019 in Nicetown-Tioga. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The block party was planned when Captain Jarreau Thomas, commanding officer for Philadelphia’s Police Athletic League (Philly PAL) called Muse about the incident. Thomas said it was time to address how psychologically damaging the officer’s gunfire was to the neighborhood youth. The shootout had created negative perceptions of officers, he said.

“So what today is about is about coming back here a few months later and show the community that we do enforce the law,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, we’re also about community.”

Deputy Commissioner Joseph Sullivan, Council president Darell Clarke take part in the Love, Peace and Soul Fest block party on Sunday October 5, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Deputy Police Commissioner Joe P. Sullivan was at Saturday’s block party. He said the officers’ current goal is to rebuild their relationship with the community.

“Our focus is on working on those trust issues,” Sullivan said. “Making sure that we have open communication, and making sure that we’re listening to the perspective of the community.”

Sullivan also spoke with residents about needed repairs on the block. Residents expressed their concern of the broken stone pots at the front of their rowhouse porches. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is brokering a deal with building trades unions to handle repairs.

Police officers interacted with neighborhood kids during the block party in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia, PA. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

As the 3700 block of North 15th Street looks forward to the fixes being made, neighbors and city officials understand this is only the beginning of rebuilding a peaceful neighborhood.

“Of course, this isn’t going to be the end,” Thomas said. “We’re going to continue to brainstorm, we’re going to continue to come up with creative plans to just make sure that the residents here on our 15th Street are feeling safe.”

Jahil, 12, who visits his aunt who lives across the street, plays hoops with a PAL cadet dressed as Captain America (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

But the Abney family will not witness the upcoming plans.

Abney said for the sake of her family’s mental health, she is moving with the help of the city. She hasn’t selected her new home, but is definite her family will change their living environment.

“Just to have a fresh start,” Abney said. “I think a fresh start will be good mentally, physically and emotionally.”

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