Lisa Hopkins was inside her Germantown home when she heard what she suspected were gunshots.
The long-time resident is not wholly unfamiliar with that sound, but the time of day gave her pause. In the 15 years on her block, she’d never heard gunplay on a Saturday afternoon.
The police officers and ambulance she soon saw two blocks away, though, confirmed her instinct.
According to police, two males (one of whom was a juvenile) were each shot four times on the 300 block of West Queen Lane minutes after 1 p.m. on Aug. 25. A black sedan with tinted windows had reportedly followed the pair before someone inside opened fire.
Both victims were taken to nearby hospitals, where they were listed in stable condition. No arrests have been made, but the juvenile had been cuffed on narcotics-related charges in the past.
Cause for concern
For Hopkins, whose son was also home at the time, the violent incident was certainly frightening. Its impact, however, was magnified by what, she said, has been a noticeable uptick in illegal activity in her section of the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood.
Left unchecked, she said she fears that the area around her home will soon become a permanent hotbed of crime.
“It’s getting to a point where we don’t know if it’s safe to walk down the street or not,” said Hopkins. “I don’t want us ending up like North Philadelphia.”
To Hopkins, a community organizer with Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, the catalyst is easy to identify.
Seeking the cause
For the past 57 years, Queen Lane Apartments has sat at 301 W. Queen Lane. In November, the public housing high-rise, operated by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, was closed for a still-to-be-completed demolition that will make way for a brand new collection of units.
Residents were naturally vacated. Many were reportedly handed housing vouchers to cover rent at non-PHA-owned apartment buildings in Germantown.
Officials with PHA could not be reached for comment.
Hopkins said the quality of life in and around her home has deteriorated since the closure, with prostitution, street gambling and particularly drug activity allegedly becoming much more common in the last few months.
Those activities, she explained, were always part of the apartment complex’s culture, but have become more visible since the hulking property was shuttered and some problematic residents began living throughout the neighborhood.
“I walk down the street to the corner store and they’re [drug dealers] just sitting there, blatantly,” she said.
Theories or realities?
It’s unclear if Hopkins and other nearby neighbors are accurately connecting the dots.
Capt. Verdell Johnson with the city’s 39th Police District, which includes Queen Lane Apartments, said there was an increase in shootings in the area in August, including two double shootings and a murder. At least two of them, he noted, including the one from Aug. 25, did have apparent ties to the drug trade.
“Prior to that, the last shooting would be 100 W. Logan [St.] on June 12,” said Johnson. “August was pretty violent.”
Asked about the spike and the PHA complex closure, though, Johnson strongly denied the possibility of a correlation. To the contrary, he said there’s been a decrease in violence overall because “there’s less residents.”
Johnson has nonetheless re-deployed patrol cars to the area. A hot spot is a hot spot.
William Thomas with state Rep. Rosita Youngblood’s office said this week that no one has contacted the long-time lawmaker about an increase in crime in and around Queen Lane.
“If we do get any feedback from the community, our district office will look into it,” said Thomas.
He added that Youngblood has been involved with community discussions around the PHA project, the source of some controversy, and that nearby crime is “just another issue that we can continue to monitor as we move forward.”
Bass office response
Joseph Corrigan, spokesperson for Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, was more direct when asked about the issue.
“We haven’t seen any evidence from the police department of a rise in that area or from constituents,” he said.
However, Hopkins said she wants to form a task force around the issue so crime doesn’t continue to eat away at the community’s quality-of-life. In addition to police, she’d like elected officials at the city and state level to get involved.
“They need to work with us before Germantown becomes the O.K. Corral area where our children can’t even be safe.”