On Wednesday afternoon, I came home to find helicopters circling an area close to my home, and I immediately knew something was wrong.
I knew because I’ve seen such sights more times than I care to count. I knew because the sound of helicopter blades whipping through the air is the sound of turmoil. I knew because something in my gut told me so.
This time the helicopters were there to record the aftermath of a shooting at Simons Recreation Center, where gunmen opened fire as young children played nearby.
Two men ran from the scene. They left 11 bullet casings on the ground, one man critically wounded with a bullet to the groin, another man with a bullet in his thigh, and a gaggle of terrified crying children. No one was killed. Not this time. But there could be retaliation, if what happened in the moments that followed is any indication.
A neighbor of mine was picking up his son from camp, and saw the telltale signs: Police flooding the area, children clinging to parents, and young men lined up on either side of the conflict, with angry expressions and tight lips.
It pains me to know this. Not only because Simons is less than a mile from my home, but also because I’ve taken my children there more than once.
On cold winter evenings, when the sky is dark and the air is crisp, we go to Simons to enjoy the ice skating rink that Flyers owner Ed Snider helped to bring to the facility. I’ve never felt that it was unsafe to ice skate at Simons, and in truth, I still don’t.
Summer is different, however, especially in the month of July, when shootings tend to spike alongside temperatures. During this time of year, recreation centers should be among the city’s safest spaces, but some of them aren’t, and it’s not the city’s fault.
The danger that looms in places like Simons during the summer is there because of people who don’t value their own lives, and therefore, can’t value the lives of others. Police statistics say they are overwhelmingly male, District Attorney Seth Williams says they are overwhelmingly high school dropouts, and police data indicate they are also overwhelmingly African American.
Does this say that impoverished young black men are inherently violent? No, it says they are not, and here’s why.
In 2013, according to police statistics, 946 African Americans were shot in Philadelphia. If we assume they were all shot by other blacks (we can’t know for sure since many of the shootings remain unsolved), more than 673,000 African American Philadelphians did not shoot anyone last year.
In other words, about 1/10th of one percent of Philadelphia’s African Americans are involved in the gun violence we see in too many of our neighborhoods. The rest of us? We want it to stop.
We want to be able to take our children to recreation centers on hot days in July, without fear of some fool opening fire. We want to come home from our jobs and know that our neighborhoods are secure. We want to look at the news and see the good things so many of us are achieving. We want to live beyond the shadow of gun violence.
So I say to the young men who are involved in these shootings, you are vastly outnumbered, and you must stop. Poverty is no excuse. Lack of educational attainment is no excuse. Difficult childhoods are no excuse. There are too many of us who have faced the same issues, but we don’t shoot people, so stop.
Stop for the children who still have a chance. Stop for the parents who still have hope. Stop for the communities that work so hard.
Stop before the helicopters come back.