Councilman hosts unity walks in light of South Philly homicides this week

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Councilman hosts unity walks in light of South Philly homicides

The community gathering was organized in response to two recent fatal shootings in the area.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson talks to neighbors on Snyder Avenue after two fatal shootings unfolded within a few days in the West Passyunk and Point Breeze neighborhoods. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

In light of two fatal shootings in South Philadelphia last week, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson hosted a pair of public safety walks throughout the 1st and 17th police districts on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

During the second walk on Wednesday, the councilman canvased from door-to-door around Snyder Avenue alongside community leaders and the Philadelphia Police Department to spread awareness and resources to South Philly neighbors in an ongoing effort to counter recent violent trends.

“Our mission today is our peace-not-guns public safety walk to bring awareness to the level of gun violence that we’re seeing here in the city of Philadelphia, but, most recently, in South Philadelphia — two back-to-back homicides of two young men,” Johnson said.

On Sunday, Jan. 13, around 8:30 p.m., police officers found a 26-year-old male victim suffering from gunshot wounds to his upper left chest while seated inside of a black Mercedes GL450 at 24th and Morris streets. The victim was then transported to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where police say he was initially listed in critical condition. The victim was later pronounced deceased at 9:33 p.m.

Just two days later on Tuesday, Jan. 15, another violent incident unfolded a few blocks south, where police found an unresponsive 23-year old-male victim who was suffering from gunshot wounds to the head and face inside a local business on the 2000 block of Snyder Avenue. Police say medics transported the victim to Jefferson University Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at 7:10 p.m.

With an unusually grim start to 2019, Johnson says he plans to work with City Council and the mayoral administration to further combat gun violence and prevent a subsequent year of increased fatalities, as in 2018 alone, Philadelphia’s homicide rate was 351 victims, which is the highest figure in a decade.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” Johnson said. “It’s the highest we’ve seen in years, and the mere fact that in my district we had two back-to-back homicides shows that we’re going in the wrong direction, so we must do something different. And today is part of our strategy to, one, bring awareness to this issue. Two, make sure we reach out to the community, but most important, follow up with members of Council and the administration on concrete solutions in addressing this issue.”

Throughout the city, there have been nine reported homicide victims this year as of Jan. 16, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department.

Several local residents say they’ve noticed a recent surge in violence around the West Passyunk neighborhood.

One of the walk’s leaders, Anton Moore, founder of Unity In The Community, a local nonprofit organization striving to bring both resources and peace to neighborhoods, says he’s lived at 20th and Snyder, just a few homes down from Tuesday evening’s crime scene, for two decades and cannot recall this level of violence around the area in recent years.

“I live on this block, and this type of stuff usually don’t happen,” Moore said. “We have a couple incidents that take place but, ya know, this is a fairly quiet block…We can’t lose focus on what’s taking place.”

One resident of 21st and Snyder streets, Nikia Terry, says she moved to the neighborhood about six months ago and has witnessed a drastic increase in incidents just since May 2018.

“I think it’s devastating. We need the community to get together to help,” she said. “It’s been terrible…I’ve been here now only six months, and I’m ready to leave.”

From 24th Street to Broad Street and Tasker Street to Snyder Avenue, there were 108 thefts, 36 burglaries, 28 aggravated assaults, 24 robberies and seven rapes throughout the last six months, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department.

Philadelphia police officers also say that this week’s back-to-back homicides in South Philadelphia were out of the ordinary.

“It is rare, and it’s something that we’re looking into,” said Philadelphia Police Department Inspector James Smith. “And hopefully, we can get the cooperation of the community to prevent any further violence happening in this area.”

Smith advises the community to always abide by the “see something, say something” principle.

But often, individuals feel intimidated to disclose information to the police, which is why one of the event’s leaders, Carmetta Dickerson, chairwoman of the 17th Police District Advisory Council, used the walk as a way to seek information from neighbors in a more private light. Her mission is to build bridges between officers and the South Philly community.

“We try to go door-to-door,” she said. “A lot of times, people feel like they cannot say anything or they’re scared. So, this gives us an opportunity to talk to people…We have to re-educate people on that you’re not alone and that the community and the resources in the community can help support whatever quality-of-life issues that you’re experiencing.”

Follow Grace on Twitter at @gracemaiorano.

Grace can be reached at gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com