Midday Sunday on South Street, people biked, walked dogs, bought water ice and ate brunch. Hours after Philadelphia’s largest shooting in nearly a decade left 12 injured and three dead in the heart of the commercial corridor, there was little physical evidence of the incident, other than a few parked news vans.
But the horrific event, which drew national attention to a city already experiencing record gun violence, left its mark.
“I feel personally uncomfortable,” said Lucy Corlett, manager of the nearby Headhouse Farmers Market, which was bustling with activity Sunday morning.
“A market is kind of like a celebratory, joyous thing. It brings the community together. … And when a terrible act of violence just happened blocks away, it’s hard to kind of reconcile those two things,” Corlett said. But “to call everything off every time there’s a terrible act of violence would mean that nothing ever happened, because there are terrible acts of violence in the city every day.”
So far this year, more than 900 people have been shot in Philadelphia, and at least 188 of them have died. Saturday’s was the ninth mass shooting in Philly this year, according to Gun Violence Archive, which defines them as incidents with four or more victims.
Nationwide, there have already been at least 243 mass shootings so far in 2022 — an average of more than one per day.
The South Street shooting happened around 11:30 p.m., according to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, when the street was full of people out enjoying a Saturday night. There’s always a large police presence along the corridor on weekends, but it was even larger than usual on this night, Outlaw said at a Sunday press briefing.
Still, that did not stop the tragedy. Manuela Villasmil, owner of Puyero, a Venezuelan restaurant off South Street, said she heard everything — the shots, the screams, the sirens, the helicopters.
She expected business to be slow the day after the shooting and worried that in the long term, the incident could hurt the revitalization of the tourism and entertainment district, which has seen its fortunes ebb and flow over the past several decades.
“It would affect all the businesses and everyone around” if solutions aren’t found, Villasmil said.
The South Street Headhouse District, which helps support and spur development along the corridor, vowed to work toward a better future.
SSHD had already started engaging with what it called “community-based anti-violence prevention resources,” the district said in a statement released Sunday, and plans to continue making “safety improvements” in the area. The organization said it’s also helping provide mental health resources for people affected by the shooting.
“Unfortunately, this epidemic is much larger than us,” the district’s statement said, “and we are now at the point where we must demand changes to address the impacts of gun violence on our community.”
Stronger gun restrictions…or more police?
Police said they recovered two semi-automatic handguns from the site of Saturday’s shooting, and that they believe at least five guns were used. One firearm had an extended magazine, which allows shooters to fire more rounds without reloading. Some states ban these attachments, but not Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia has filed suit multiple times to allow the city to make stricter gun laws, but so far courts have sided with the Republican-controlled state legislature, which maintains that gun regulation must occur at the state level.
That’s frustrating for people like Anne, who declined to give her last name but said she lives above one of the stores closest to the site of the shooting. Saturday night, she said she saw a victim bleeding on the ground under her balcony.
She worries about the safety of her grandson, who works as a school teacher. She wants to see tighter gun laws and the politicians who oppose them voted out of office. “If they are getting funds from the NRA, you shouldn’t vote for them,” Anne said. “Because as long as they’re getting funds, there will be guns and there will be murders.”
Jezabel Careaga, owner of Jezabel’s Cafe and Bakery and a regular vendor at the Headhouse Farmers Market near South Street, is looking into ways her business can help raise money or otherwise support trainings about mass shootings.
“We’re part of a community, and it’s extremely important that as business owners, we commit,” Careaga said. “We’re part of creating a safer community.”
Sabrina Leftie, a sanitation worker who works in the area, said she believes the solution is more law enforcement. She’s taking a test soon to become a police officer.
“I just like to help people,” Leftie said. “I like for people to feel safe, feel comfortable and feel like they have support. And I don’t think a lot of people in Philly are feeling that right now.”
But there were already multiple police officers in the vicinity when the shooting started.
Asked if additional officers might have helped prevent the incident, Police Commissioner Outlaw said she is always in need of more resources. She noted that deploying more cops to South Street means taking them away from other areas of the city, where she said they’re needed to address everything from quality of life issues to other shootings.
Gun violence is spread throughout Philadelphia, according to a map of shootings maintained by the Office of the City Controller.
Corlett, the manager of Sunday’s Headhouse Market, said she expects the South Street shooting to receive lots of attention.
“There are a lot of wealthy residents that care a lot about how things look and what happens here,” Corlett said. “I have no doubt that this will lead to … more focus on making this a friendlier, hospitable place for visitors and for market goers and vendors. But that’s not true of everywhere,” she added. “I’m not sure every violent event is treated equally.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find support and resources here.
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