“Maybe I’m guilty of being an idealist, but I’d thought my neighborhood was relatively safe,” Carol Lanni said Friday from her home on the 2600 block of South Bouvier Street. “I’d never thought something like this would happen, but now my eyes are fully open.”
The 43-year-old Girard Estate dweller has been stressing similar safeguarding since her 11-year-old son Raymond’s Aug. 3 encounter with a thieving teenager. She addressed her angst the next day by creating Taking Our South Philadelphia Streets Back, a Facebook page that at press time had exceeded 2,000 likes, and is leading to calls for unified efforts against crime.
“Since my child’s experience, I’ve become much more interested in understanding our communities,” the single mother, who also has two daughters, said. “If we don’t act more diligently, the crime rate will skyrocket, and we’ll be living behind closed doors.”
Lanni has spent the last two weeks healing Raymond’s psychological wounds and analyzing South Philly’s overall moral identity. She has approached the former with the utmost care and has seen the latter as a steadily declining facet of her future and that of other established or prospective families. That thinking’s genesis came shortly after she learned nine teenagers had accosted her offspring and a 13-year-old friend following their departure from Foot Locker, 2308 W. Oregon Ave.
“If I observe something, I’m going to stop to help, but that wasn’t the immediate case for my son,” Lanni said of the incident with Raymond, whom a 15-year-old relieved of an iPhone 4 as peers ensured the boys could not escape by circling them. “When I saw him, he looked as if he’d seen a ghost.”
The matriarch found herself equally spooked, and she and the boy remained at 1st District Headquarters, 2301 S. 24th St., until 9:30 that evening, which yielded her little sleep yet ample ambition. Mindful that adults commit the majority of South Philly’s transgressions, she also knows youths often engage in misbehavior, so with her son’s matter still causing her strife, she sees the younger set’s welfare as more pressing.
“I have to blame parents for what’s becoming of many of these kids,” Lanni said. “Many of them are too worried about their own lives and more interested in being their children’s friends and not their parents, and they’re the first ones to say ‘Not my kid’ when something happens.”
Not desiring to conduct a witch hunt for lackluster guardians, the budding leader yearns to have them realize the severity of their minimized roles and help them to see their children can go from victimizing to being victimized. To combine her concerns for grown-ups and youngsters, she is striving to form a town watch and, in the wake of last week’s National Night Out, is uniting with local businesses that will display red ribbons to alert endangered individuals as to where to go for help and with agencies to have talks on such topics as safety and self-defense.
“She just needs to attract the interest and go ahead,” Paul Bryson, the 1st District’s community relations officer, who has had talks with Lanni, said.
According to the resident of the 2600 block of South Front Street, the addition would become his district’s third town watch and would likely go a long way to helping Lanni to serve as “the eyes and ears of the police.”
“My goals are to heighten awareness and get our kids educated, and I highlight these themes on my Facebook posts,” the focused figure, who will hold a 6:30 p.m. meeting Sept. 9 at Barry Playground, 1800 Johnston St., said. “We need people involved because it’s gotten to the point where people don’t want to go out, but they have to and must do so in full force.”
When Lanni and her allies unite at the Marconi recreational spot, Jody Della Barba will appear to iterate the community-at-large’s problems stem from an erosion of family values. Likewise contending that many parents have checked out as overseers, the head of the Girard Estate Area Residents civic believes children are living in the worst era for bullying and require immediate intervention.
“When I look at overall crime, it seems we’re becoming like the Wild, Wild West,” the resident of the 2500 block of South 18th Street said. “This is the worst that kids have been in some time, and so many of them lack any concern for the repercussions of their actions.”
“Many do lack empathy and sympathy,” Lanni added. “For the ones who involve themselves in crime, it’s their way of coming to think they don’t need to work to achieve what they want in life.”
Fearing negligence will spawn future crimes, the ladies hold that extra eyes will mean more calls to the police, which could bring more uniformed personnel to their neighborhoods.
“We don’t want to put people in harm’s way or be vigilantes,” Lanni, who is constantly seeking resources to tout her crusade for comfort, said of her connections with neighbors and strangers. “We just want people, especially kids, to wake up.”
Meeka Outlaw, who like Della Barba has become a fan of the Facebook page, refuted the notion that one should blame children’s summer vacation for the increase in ordeals, which Lanni said also includes the detonation of firecrackers in a child’s pocket at Barry Playground.
“It’s definitely not a seasonal matter,” the resident of the 2600 block of Wharton Street and head of Residents Organized for Advocacy and Direction said, “because even when they’re in school, some come with so much baggage and aggression, getting through to them is difficult.”
Having crafted an 11-year teaching career, Outlaw noted she has observed “different types of bad” among her charges, and like her peers, she cannot recall a more confusing time for rearing youngsters. She feels adults are likewise suffering, with the lack of employment opportunities, especially for Grays Ferry dwellers, as a gloomy cloud hanging over their hopes.
“I often think we’re just an explosion waiting to happen,” the educator, who would like to have a town watch for her expanse, said. “A child’s first teacher is a parent, and I’ve always seen parents as coaches and teachers as assistants. That’s kind of gone away.”
“You’ll never hear me say I have all the answers,” Lanni added. “What I do know is our kids, both those involved in nonsense and those not, are vulnerable. My son had nothing physical happen to him, but what about next time?”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.