Quiet S. Philly neighborhood shaken by shooting, worries of violent year to come

Residents say gun violence is always top-of-mind, even when the shooting’s not in their neighborhood.

Faheem Alexander, owner of Faheem’s Hands of Precision Barber Shop, said he and his staff try and set good examples for young people. But to fight gun violence it's going to take others to pitch in. (Ximena Conde / WHYY)

Faheem Alexander, owner of Faheem’s Hands of Precision Barber Shop, said he and his staff try and set good examples for young people. But to fight gun violence it's going to take others to pitch in. (Ximena Conde / WHYY)

Last week, when three men fired more than 70 bullets at a 28-year-old man on the 2000 block of Snyder Ave. in South Philadelphia, residents were stunned.

“These are friendly people here,” said Nancey Lowes, a 20-year-resident of the neighborhood. “These people old around here, we ain’t do nothing to nobody. You going to tell me we can’t walk the street like we used to? Walk our dog? … I can’t even sit on my stoop and enjoy the nice sun.”

Residents like Lowes said it was worrisome that their nook of South Philly, which rarely experiences shootings, could be every bit as vulnerable as other neighborhoods they hear are plagued by gun violence on the evening news.

Johnnie Bradley has lived on the block for 15 years. To him, the shooting foreshadows a repeat of 2020’s violence.

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“Almost 500 people [were killed],” Bradley said of the city’s 499 homicide victims. “That’s a lot of death, that’s a lot of killing.”

As of Tuesday, police report there have been 92 homicides in the city, a 35% increase from the same time last year. By the week ending Sunday, there were more than 330 shooting victims, a 47% increase from the same time last year.

“During the summer, that’s when I figured it would get crazier,” said Lowes of shootings in the city.

Lowes and others said they were looking for greater accountability from the highest levels of government to fellow Philadelphians.

“You got to hold the elected officials accountable,” Faheem Alexander, owner of Faheem’s Hands of Precision Barber Shop, which has been on 20th and Snyder Ave for 20 years. “You got to hold the people that make the guns accountable, you know, down to whoever puts these guns on the street for money.”

Alexander demanded Congress take action and close loopholes that make it easy for people to get their hands on firearms. Gun shows were a particular area of concern for the business leader.

Prosecutors such as Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro have similarly expressed their frustrations with gun shows and how people can purchase so-called “gun kits,” ready to assemble guns.

Other neighborhood business owners echoed Alexander, saying the city could be doing more to make streets safer. They said their community would be better off with more cameras and better lighting at night.

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On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw made the now perennial call to the public asking them to remain “proactive” and “vigilant.”

“The duty to protect these children belongs to all of us,” said Outlaw after two 15-years-olds were shot in 24 hours, one of them fatally.

Around the 2000 block of Snyder Ave., views are mixed about whether the police department is doing everything it can to curb the spate of shootings.

Lowes said she swears there were fewer police cars patrolling the streets after initial COVID-19 shutdowns last spring.

“Police, they show up now,” said Lowes of a renewed presence after last week’s shooting. “Just now I seen police go down the street, and I was happy to see that.”

Bradley’s assessment of policing in his neighborhood is slightly different.

“Sometimes I have been out, and I saw five or six cops walking around during the daytime, and I always said, ‘Why are so many cars walking around during the daytime?’” said Bradley. “But then you come back to that same block at night, you don’t see them anymore. What are you… scared to get shot at?”

Still, residents said they don’t envy Outlaw’s position. While they don’t absolve the department of responsibility, people like Bradley and Alexander posit that young people who are perpetuating the violence do so because they lack familial and community support.

“We need structured programming for the youth, jobs, education,” said Alexander.

The residents fear that some parents and neighbors aren’t asking young people where they’ve been and with who, something they say previous generations had to contend with.

Alexander said he and his barbers, who range from 25 to 30 in age, take it upon themselves to be role models, stay involved in the life of their South Philly corner, and lend an ear to clients who sit in their chairs.

“You try to talk to them, you know, give them good advice,” said Alexander of the people who come to his shop for haircuts. “A barber’s job is to talk to the client to see what’s going on. We play a part, as a doctor or a mental health therapist and stuff like that.”

But Alexander said to really address the city’s violence, some more people are going to have to join him.

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