‘We’re a city under siege’— 2 shootings in 2 days rattles North Philly neighbors

A week of violence in North Philadelphia has some neighbors wondering if it is time to leave longtime homes.

Diane Southerland and her daughter Terry in their Logan home. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Diane Southerland and her daughter Terry in their Logan home. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Five young men were shot in North Philadelphia just one day after a gunman injured six police officers. The two incidents occurred on the same street, just a few miles apart.

No one was killed in either incident. But the string of violent, gun-related instances has rattled longtime residents. Some, like Diane Southerland, say the violence could drive them out of their neighborhoods.

“It’s hard trying to live in peace without fear, as you become older,” said the 61-year-old resident of the 5800 block of North 15th Street. “So then you have to start thinking about alternatives.”

Thursday’s quintuple shooting occurred just outside Southerland’s tidy rowhouse. They were one of the first black families to move to this block, over 60 years ago. She loves the neighborhood, which she described as largely African-American and middle class.

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But now she says she’s afraid to even open her windows during the sweltering August afternoon. Southerland cares for her elderly mother and disabled daughter and worries they are not mobile enough to react to another shooting.

Southerland said she’s ready to move to a different neighborhood or the suburbs.

“We’re a city under siege. And residents are fearful,” she said. “And we need the police, and policing, to nip things in the bud before they really get out of hand.”

Other neighbors on the block relayed similar concerns –– although most were afraid to give their names out of fear of reprisal.

There was little sign of a shooting of five on 15th Street in the Ogontz section of Philadelphia the next morning. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Advocates for criminal justice reform say over-policing harms African-American communities. Others say that the recent standoff between a gunman and Philadelphia police exposed the deep rift in trust between cops and the communities they are meant to protect. But many older neighbors, like Southerland, were at a loss about how to otherwise stop the tide of violence.

Although year-to-date homicides are down from 2012, the homicide rate has inched upward from a historic low in 2014, and the number of non-fatal shootings has also increased slightly compared to last year. And these changes may feel more tangible in neighborhoods like Logan, where the Southerlands reside. These early quasi-suburban areas have seen sharp increases in both poverty and crime since the 1970s.

Diane Southerland’s daughter, Terry Sutherland, was partially paralyzed and immobilized by a stroke. She feels vulnerable in her own home and said she wishes she could live in a gated community.

She was unsure that an increased police presence could help, unsure anything could truly be done to quickly address gun violence.

“More police could help,” Terry Southerland said. “But look at what happened. Some people don’t even care about shooting at the police.”

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