Carol Lanni has turned to social media to fight crime and protect her South Philadelphia neighborhood.
Lanni started a Facebook page, Taking Back Our South Philadelphia Streets Back, just days after her 11 year-old son was robbed earlier this month.
"I started this page out of total frustration,” said Lanni.
"My child was mugged on Saturday, August 3. Thank God he wasn’t killed, hurt or harmed. I never feared the South Philly streets until it was this close to home.”
The single mother of three said her son was surrounded by a group of teens who stole his iPhone. The boy was on his bike with another friend, just around the corner from his house on Oregon Avenue.
"I never was afraid," said the boy. "It was a little freaky."
After police questioned her son about the crime, Lanni said she didn’t know where to turn. She felt helpless because the teens who did this were still on the loose. So, she turned to Facebook to share her story with the intent that others might share tips on cleaning up the neighborhood.
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Lanni said she went public on Facebook to prevent the crime from happening to another child, and her actions have struck a chord with her South Philly neighbors.
"People are afraid to call police because of retaliation," said resident Dee Polidoro.
Area businesses and owners, such as Dino’s Party Center, Conestoga Bank, Lombardi’s Prime Meats and Wolf Street Bar, have come forward to offer their support for Lanni’s crusade to keep the neighborhood safe.
Last Saturday, Martial arts instructor Soke David D’Antonio provided a daylong seminar at FDR Park to teach adults and children personal protection. The seminars are ongoing.
"We are not vigilantes," said D’Antonio. "We want people to be aware of their surroundings."
Lanni believes the collective effort of businesses and residents is a "second set of eyes for the police department." She's asked businesses to put a red ribbon on their doors so citizens know their businesses are a welcome place to seek shelter if they encounter trouble.
"We ask this from the public each and every day for their assistance," said Philadelphia Police Lt. John Stanford. "We encourage members of the community to get involved, but don't want people to put themselves in harm's way."
The Facebook page has 2,428 likes and has been used as a vehicle for neighbors to come together and share their concerns.
On August 11, Michele DeFinizio wrote: "I'm outside every day with my kids & porch light on at night. I'm taking license plate numbers on the people who keep 'visiting' my drug dealing neighbors. I'm done being quiet, I want them off my street & I don't have a problem doing what I have to do so we can get our streets back!"
On August 16, Suzanne Bandera Lusi wrote: "It takes one to help change, it takes the masses to want to change. It can be what it once was...make the changes, keep the heart and watch each others backs...Take responsibility and show the love"
On August 26, Lanni posted: "I feel like I'm living and raising my children in a war zone but the war was one sided and now it's time to fight back!"
The first community meeting is scheduled for Sept. 9 at Barry Playground on Bigler Street at 7 p.m. The goal is to educate parents and the youth to be aware of their surroundings, and to create deterrents to crime.
"The support we are receiving has been astronomical," said Lanni.
Lanni’s son is excited to be going back-to-school. She says he still rides his bike in the neighborhood and has created bracelets made from red rubber bands to help spread the message: "If you see something say something."