“You don’t have to live in fear…We speak your language. The language of love, peace and harmony.”
The mantra, spoken through a megaphone by 17th Police District Advisory Council chairperson Carmetta Dickerson, resonated throughout the Lower Moyamensing and Whitman neighborhoods on Thursday evening.
Alongside Dickerson, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler of the 184th Legislative District, Capt. Brian Hartzell of the 3rd Police District, Councilperson Mark Squilla and other community leaders convened with local residents to host a South Philly Peace Walk in light of recent crimes.
Starting at Fiedler’s office at 9th and Ritner streets, the rally weaved throughout the neighborhood saying prayers, handing out tip line fliers and speaking in various languages in an effort to put eyes and ears on the streets.
“Like other parts of the city, there’s been an increase in gun violence this year in the 3rd District and specifically in this general area, there’s been a couple of homicides,” Hartzell said. “So, I know it’s been frustrating for the police department. It’s frustrating for the community, and I know it’s frustrating for faith community and our politicians, so we thought it’d be a good idea to get together and just try and get the community together to voice their displeasure with the situation and show the rest of the community that we’re trying to make positive changes in the area.”
Though the 3rd District works to organize these community-oriented events regularly, this was the first walk hosted by Fiedler since she’s been in office.
As constituents have filtered into her office expressing concerns about recent crime activity, Fiedler thought this was an appropriate time to organize a peace walk with the 3rd District Police.
“We’re excited to do it because we feel like it’s important as elected officials, community leaders, members of law enforcement, to be available, to be transparent, to be accessible to the community,” she said. “And sometimes being within formal office walls is a barrier to interacting with people.”
Fiedler brought to light the immense demographic diversity of the 184th district, which she says is one of the most diverse legislative districts in the entire state of Pennsylvania with residents speaking more than 30 languages and dialects.
Hartzell suggests that the influx of immigrant populations in the region can often make various ethnic demographics feel isolated, as it could be difficult for new neighbors to immerse and integrate into the communities.
The goal of the peace walk was to counter any feelings of segregation.
“We’re very diverse here,” Fiedler said. “We’re diverse linguistically, culturally, ethnically, economically – lots of diversity in South Philly. And, I think we see this as a really good beginning of building rapport among people who may come from different places and different parts of our district but are all deeply invested in making sure their kids can ride their bikes on the sidewalk, and they’re not afraid of gunfire.”
Over the past month, there were more than 400 crimes reported around the 3rd Police District, according to Philadelphia Police Department data. These crimes include more than 100 thefts, more than 20 burglaries, more than 10 aggravated assaults and robberies and one homicide, also according to Philadelphia Police Department data.
Throughout the route, members of the 3rd Police District Advisory Council handed out fliers with police tip lines to residents as they emerged from their homes.
The objective, officers stress, is overcoming any language, racial or social barriers between the department and the community.
“I want people to be more eyes and ears,” said community relations officer Juan “Ace” Delgado of the 3rd District. “And that’s what we’re working on – mores eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Our policing team works hand-in-hand to work on quality-of-life issues and also the broken glass effect. If we can get communities to help clean, help work together with their neighbors, share information with their neighbors, keep their streets clean and work as a good community, we have safer streets for people to live, people to play, people to walk.”
Aside from police and politicians, other recreation, faith and business-based community leaders joined the neighborhood walk, including members of Ford Pal Recreation Center, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia and local churches.
Rev. Edmund Sherrill, who has been pastor of Mt. Enon Baptist Church, 500 Snyder Ave, for the last 13 years, says one of the most dire issues he sees plaguing the neighborhood is drug infestation. In reporting crimes, he often notices residents’ fear of speaking out. A peace walk, he says, is an effective way to counter these hesitations and connect with the community.
“I’ve watched this community, which is pretty much a melting pot, but for the past 13 years,” Sherrill said. “When things should be getting better, I’ve seen, what looks like, the community is getting worse…I hope (residents) take away that there’s still hope. No matter how dark it gets. No matter how crime-infested our neighborhoods become, they’ll see a hope.”