‘Things need to change:’ Shooting at Philly grad party one of 19 incidents in two days

The scene of a shooting in Southwest Philadelphia Sunday night, where the violence interrupted a graduation party near James Finnegan and Paschall playgrounds. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The scene of a shooting in Southwest Philadelphia Sunday night, where the violence interrupted a graduation party near James Finnegan and Paschall playgrounds. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After 19 shooting incidents rocked Philadelphia over the span of two days, leaving five people dead and 28 injured, activists and residents say police can’t curb gun violence alone.

In Southwest Philadelphia — where a graduation party near James Finnegan and Paschall playgrounds was cut short Sunday night when a 24-year-old man was fatally shot in the back and five others were wounded — some residents are moving forward as best as they can.

Monica Vinnie is leaving town.

Vinnie frequents the park with her three daughters and said they love to swim at the pool and run through the sprinklers when it’s hot.

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But she remembers a shooting just blocks from the park earlier this year. The bloodstains left behind drew questions from her daughters.

“My daughters is like, ‘Mom is that blood?’ I’m like, ‘Yes,’” Vinnie said. “There’s a lot of killings around here.”

She laments the fact that young people in the neighborhood need jobs and training.

“Let them know you do have a future beyond whatever you go through and you could start here learning trades or different things like that,” she said.

Still, Vinnie isn’t waiting for change — she said she plans to move to New Castle, Delaware within the year.

More than 40 children swung on monkey bars and slid down hot slides at Finnegan Playground Monday morning.

But moving toward the edge of the park, a small group of three kids could be seen taking aim at some tennis balls.

Monday was the first day of Legacy Youth Tennis and Education’s annual summer camp and the tennis courts are about 100 feet from where the shooting took place, a grill and portable gazebo abandoned in the night’s chaos within view.

“It was just shocking to see how close it was to actually where we’re going to be teaching tennis today,” said coach Duwaine Jenkins, Jr.

Jenkins said it was “all hands on deck” Monday as parents called with concerns about whether it was safe to send their children.

“There’s a police presence here this morning, so we should be OK,” Jenkins said.

However, not all parents were convinced, and more than 20 children did not show up to camp. Another tennis coach said some parents turned around when they learned a shooting is what drew police and media crews to the area.

Police to step up weekend patrols

Lawmakers from Philadelphia called on state and city officials to stem the rising tide of gun violence.

Members of Pennsylvania’s Legislature, including state Sen. Anthony Williams, asked Gov. Tom Wolf to declare a state of emergency on gun violence, and for legislation to reduce the availability of firearms.

They also called for a stronger police presence on the street

The Philadelphia Police Department will do just that, Commissioner Richard Ross said at a press conference Monday afternoon. Ross said the PPD would extend weekend overtime for officers and put as many cops on the street as possible.

And while Ross did not name names, he said advocates for criminal justice reform, such as District Attorney Larry Krasner, may have gone too far.

“I am concerned right now [that] nationally and locally, we are so mired in this notion to being politically correct, particularly things about reform,” he said. “I hear it when I walk the neighborhoods, things need to change. We need to be far tougher on crime than people are talking about. It is not the narrative right now. It is not what is talked about.”

The homicide count in Philadelphia before Monday stood at 152, 13% higher than at the same point last year. Philadelphia recorded 349 homicides in 2018, the highest number in over a decade.

Ross also said the department is not completely to blame for the recent spate of violence, noting PPD statistics show the number of arrests for firearms possession almost doubled since the first of the year.

“To date, 820 people arrested for just firearms violations — that’s not connected with any other crime,” he said.

Activists and residents agreed that dealing with gun violence requires a multi-faceted approach.

“A lot of these people, these kids especially, who are a part of this violence have been victims also, who have been victims of trauma and all kinds of situations,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, the founder and national executive director of the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge.

“Those kinds of things need to be addressed,” she added.

Johnson-Speight said whether it’s finding counseling or mentoring for young people, all groups working to curb violence need to coordinate better.

“Ultimately, you want to get to the hearts and minds of people who feel like they have to do it in the first place, they have to pick up a gun and exact revenge,” Ross said.

George Mosee, Jr., the executive director of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug, Anti-Violence Network, said anyone working to reduce gun violence needs to send a single message: “If you’re in possession of a firearm illegally, then you will be arrested and prosecuted in the city of Philadelphia.”

WHYY’s Tom MacDonald and The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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