A violent shooting in the Kingsessing section of the city on Sunday night that left one man dead, and five others injured, has left a community in disrepair.
According to Philadelphia police, six men were standing on the corner of 54th Street and Florence Avenue in front of Los Papi Deli and Grocery around 7 p.m. on Sunday when an unidentified gunman opened fire killing 22-year-old Devin Hatch, and leaving three 18-year-old males and one 21-year-old man with various gunshot wounds. A 23-year-old victim was also wounded and is in critical condition.
The shooting left some members of the community, including 17-year Kingsessing resident and Executive Director of Men United for a Better Philadelphia Mark Harrell, angry and frustrated with gun violence.
“What bothers me is that there is no outrage at the fact that we are losing men and boys that look like me at an alarming rate. I’m outraged about it; I’m angry; I’m frustrated; I’m all of the above,” Harrell said.
Harrell lives on the 5700 block of Florence Avenue, just three blocks from where the Sunday shooting took place. In addition to being personally alarmed by the incident, Harrell says constant violence has left many in the Kingsessing neighborhood in a state of continuous fear.
“It’s very emotional for me, I have a 16-year-old son, and I have nephews that know these guys,” he said.
“Every time you hear something happen you’ve gotta get on the phone and make sure that your son or your nephews, and the young men that you know are okay. There’s a whole community of people that do that every time. They’re afraid. The phones light up. Everybody’s getting calls. Everybody’s on social media, checking to see if they’re okay. That’s not normal. It shouldn’t be normal.”
Violent shootings, however, are not an abnormal occurrence in the Kingsessing neighborhood. According to Philadelphia Police Department data, there have been 39 gunshot victims in the 12th police district since July 1.
State Representative James Roebuck, whose legislative district covers the Kingsessing neighborhood, says he was discouraged by the incident. Roebuck pointed to economics, education, and corner bodegas as underlying factors that contribute to violence in his district.
“The fact that these are happening in a greater number of instances, it’s discouraging and it suggests that we need to be, perhaps, more proactive in some of the things that we’re doing,” Roebuck said.
“It goes back to efforts in whatever can be done to stabilize the community in terms of providing economic opportunity for those who have a tendency towards violent activity, and for people who might not be able to get employment or who have not gotten sufficient education to do well in life. One of the problems that’s a characteristic--unfortunately--of my district is that you tend to have a number of delis or bodegas that are more-or-less characterized as anchorages for criminal activity. Delis like this just contribute to instabilities in the community. So, that’s a major problem also. But we work very much with community groups that try to control violence in the community.”
Men United for a Better Philadelphia is a grass roots organization of volunteers committed to reducing violence in the city of Philadelphia. Harrell says his organization’s focus is getting men engaged in violence prevention.
“Our message is one of just putting the guns down. We try to get men to become a part of this movement because police can respond to incidents, and they can investigate after the fact, but in terms of prevention, the men have to step up and talk to these boys and tell them there’s another way to go,” he said.
While Harrell agreed with Roebuck that economics, education, and bodega hangouts are contributing factors to increased violence among young black men in Kingsessing, he says it’s more important for members of the community to be actively engaged in advocating for an end to gun violence.
“These bodegas exist all throughout the city of Philadelphia. Before the bodegas it was the Chinese stores. Before the Chinese stores it was someplace else. People have always congregated on the corners,” he said. “While it’s a part of the problem, it’s not the cause when you look at the bigger picture. Black male unemployment in the city of Philadelphia is a problem. People who are up against the wall will do some serious things to try to get to where they want to be. But the answer is in people standing up and speaking out.”
Despite reports that several people were standing outside when the Sunday shooting occurred, police say no witnesses have come forward.
While Harrell acknowledges the importance of witnesses reporting incidents to police, he says people may be hesitant to report information to police because they may fear retribution from people who commit these shootings.
“It’s gonna take people who know them, who know they have guns in their homes, to reach out to them and give them the message. But it seems everyone has guns and these bullets that fly through our community have no names on them. So there’s a real fear that exists amongst our people,” Harrell said.
Roebuck says his office will continue to seek new ways to quell violence in Kingsessing.
“That’s always the hope, and that remains a commitment of ours, to work with the neighborhood, to address these issues, to be proactive in looking at more ways that we can get more resources in the neighborhood that would enhance schools, to have better facilities for recreation, and to give young people an alternative to violence,” he said.
“There’s all sorts of things that we can do and we need to constantly pursue our commitment to make the quality of life better in Kingsessing.”
Police have yet to arrest any suspects in connection with Sunday’s shooting.