‘Your whole day is watching your back’: Philly on edge after another violent weekend

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A bullet hole in a vehicle outside Clayborn and Lewis Playground in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A bullet hole in a vehicle outside Clayborn and Lewis Playground in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Lifelong Poplar resident “Smiley” feels fortunate.

Her 15-year-old daughter made it home safely after violence erupted near a large outdoor gathering in North Philadelphia she attended Saturday night.

Just before midnight, as about 200 mostly young people socialized near the intersection of North 10th and Brown streets, gunshots fired. Five people, including three teenagers, were wounded.

“My baby was down there and she had to run for coverage, and that’s just not right,” the mother said. “I would have been burying my child if she didn’t do what she did — think, act and do something fast.”

Now, Smiley, who declined to let WHYY/PlanPhilly use her full name out of fear of retaliation, is no longer letting her younger kids leave the house. It just feels too risky.

“We gotta put these guns down,” she said. “They’re saying Black lives matter, but it don’t seem like it. It seems like the war is against each other — it can’t be like that.”

The shooting was part of another violent weekend in Philadelphia, which is struggling to contain a historic spike in gun violence and the coronavirus pandemic simultaneously.

Over the weekend, 35 people were shot between 7 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Monday, said a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson. Seven of them died. The names of the victims have not yet been released.

A total of 55 people were shot last week, leaving communities across the city on edge and residents adapting to the violence by keeping children inside and avoiding their stoops.

Esther, who also declined to give her last name and lives in West Poplar near where one of the shootings occurred, said the neighborhood once felt safer. She used to let her 12-year-old granddaughter go out and play with her friends on North 10th Street, while she cared for her two other granddaughters at home.

Five people were wounded when gunfire broke out at 10th and Brown Streets in Philadelphia over the weekend. Some residents told WHYY reporters that they were keeping their kids inside. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After recent shootings in her neighborhood, including the one on Saturday a few doors down from hers, the only way the 12-year-old can leave the house is with someone watching her.

“You don’t have a normal day — your whole day is watching your back and keep trying to keep on doing what you need to do,” said Esther. “If you hear shots, you are supposed to hit the floor, or hit the sofa, and lay there and stay there.”

Esther said her granddaughter asks her, “Why can’t we move right now?”

“What are you talking about? I don’t have no money to move,” she said. “But at this point, I can’t lock her in the yard.”

35 people shot over the weekend

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, the violence started on Friday night on the 2200 block of West Harold Street in Strawberry Mansion. At around 9:21 p.m., a 17-year-old Black youth was shot in the left side of his chest. He was pronounced dead.

Just three minutes later, a 24-year-old Black man was shot in the abdomen while he was on the front porch of a house on the 5900 block of Master Street in Carroll Park section of West Philadelphia.

At 10:42 p.m., an 18-year-old Black man was shot nine times on the 3100 block of G Street in Kensington.

The violence only intensified from there, according to police accounts.

Between midnight and the next morning, seven more people were shot over the course of a roughly four-hour span.

Just after 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, two Latinas were shot on the 800 block of Sedgley Avenue in Fairhill. One was struck in the arm, the other in the leg and shoulder.

At 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, a 19-year-old Black man was shot once in the leg at 60th and Callowhill in West Philadelphia.

Similar to Friday, the shootings picked up after dark.

At approximately 8:47 p.m., a 24-year-old Black man was shot in the buttocks and hip on the 3100 block of Tasker Street in South Philadelphia.

Less than an hour later, a Black man believed to be around 20 years old was shot in the head near the 2100 block of Webster Street in Graduate Hospital. He was pronounced dead by medics who sped to his side.

Near Brown and 10th Street, police responded to a call of a person with a gun around 11:30 p.m. In what would stand out as the worst incident of a bad weekend, five people had been shot near the large gathering attended by Smiley’s daughter. Among the wounded was a 16-year-old boy who was struck in the shoulder.

From midnight until just after the sun rose on Sunday, at least six more shootings occurred. All of the victims were Black men between the ages of 24 and 40, according to initial police reports.

Remnants of crime scene tape on Brown Street in North Philadelphia where 5 were wounded in a shooting Saturday night. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The pace of violence continued unabated through Monday morning, leaving five people dead.

The previous weekend was also marked by violence. More than 20 people were shot, including an 11-year old boy.

In West Philadelphia, near the Philadelphia Zoo, six people were shot during a cookout at the Clayborn Lewis Community Center, including a pregnant woman and two children.

They all survived. Police are searching for several suspects, but have not made any arrests, according to a spokesperson.

While overall violent crime is down this year, shootings and homicides have surged in Philadelphia. To date, police have recorded 270 murders — a 31% increase over this time in 2019 and the highest total at this point in the year in more than decade.

As of August 16, the last date for which data is available, 1,203 people have been shot, including more than 100 children. That’s a 36% increase over the same time last year.

‘I don’t trust the streets’

From her porch on Union Street in West Philadelphia, Daaiyah Dockery said the spike in gun violence in the neighborhood has forced her to lay down some new ground rules for her two teenagers — 15 and 18.

“They gotta be with mommy at all times,” said Dockery, who moved in last summer. “I don’t trust the streets.”

Similar to Smiley’s children, her kids also aren’t allowed to go to the corner store by themselves. Someone has to go with them.

They don’t like it, said Dockery. She doesn’t either. But they understand it’s the way it has to be until things quiet down — if that day ever comes.

“Because of what’s going on in the streets,” she said.

Tarone Butler has lived in this section of West Philadelphia for more than 15 years. He’s never seen so much gun violence here.

“It’s crazy, basically. It’s crazy,” said Butler, 58, from behind a Dallas Cowboys face mask.

West Philadelphia resident Tarone Butler said his neighbor was injured in a shooting and he’s been more cautious about going out of his home at night because of a surge of gun violence in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Residents on Butler’s block used to hang out on their stoops and talk regularly with one another. Between the shootings — and the coronavirus pandemic — he now goes days without seeing or chatting with his neighbors.

They’re all inside more, including one of the women who was shot last weekend near the community center.

“You gotta protect yourselves at all times now,” said Butler.

Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Sekou Kinebrew has attributed the rise in gun violence to existing rivalries between gangs and other groups, continued competition over drug turf, and “beefs” between people with “poor conflict-resolution” skills.

The department has said COVID-19 has played a part as well. Fewer people on the street has meant fewer eyewitnesses, potentially emboldening those responsible for the shootings. Members of warring groups have also been more likely to “encounter each other without obstruction or impediment,” according to Kinebrew.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said last week, testifying before City Council, that COVID-19, as well as the string of demonstrations that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hampered the department’s ability to fight crime. Especially affected was the department’s ability to pursue drug-related cases, which, she said, contributed to increased gun violence in areas of the city notorious for narcotics trafficking.

Under a strategic plan released earlier this year, district police commanders are developing quarterly crime plans focused on violent crime “hot spots.” Officials hope these plans will make crime-fighting more tailored and nimble.

The department has also started having weekly meetings to review shootings in the city with local, state and federal law enforcement partners. The meetings are meant to inform district-level priorities week-to-week, including staffing and deployment of resources for violence reduction strategies.

Earlier this month, the city launched the Gun Violence Intervention program in Southwest Philadelphia. The new effort calls in residents most likely to pull the trigger or be targeted by gun violence to meet with law enforcement, social workers and anti-violence advocates who offer them support in exchange for changing their lifestyles and putting down the guns.

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