Toeing the Thin Line Between Block Parties and Brawls

With six simple words posted on Facebook, West Rockland Street block co-captain Aine Doley summed up the years-long struggle she and her sister face in revitalizing their sliver of southwest Germantown.

"Two steps forward," she wrote, "four steps back."

The first three words alluded to a Saturday block party which saw — among other attractions — a huge, carnival-style inflatable waterslide situated in the middle of a block which runs between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street.

The last three words referred to a large fight that drew police via car and helicopter to the area two nights later.

"It's never all fun," said Doley's sister (and fellow block co-captain) Emaleigh on Tuesday. "Hard work around these parts."

First, a festive occasion

As part of a civic-reclamation project dating back to 2009, Saturday marked their third-annual block party, one that kicked off with an opening prayer and praise-dance performance by Yolanda Blackson.

The moonbounce and "The Screamer," an apparently aptly named waterslide, were procured via "Kurt the Party Man." (Each participating household is asked to donate $20 in advance.)

The Doley's mother organized an arts contest, tapping into the afternoon's arts-and-drawing activities for youth.

Attendees (an estimated 200 in all) also gathered for a moment of silence for two locals lost to violence last year.

Bryan Keith Jones was shot to death on the block last August; Sonya Lewis, a regular visitor to the block, was fatally strangled in North Philadelphia one month earlier.

"Bryan's sister, Ms. Diane Jones, spoke eloquently about the loss of her brother and the trauma she and her family continues to experience," Emaleigh recounted on Tuesday.

The inspiration behind the event was solidifying scattered block parties traditionally held on the street. Put another way, it was designed to build block unity.

"It made sense to just have the block party on a set date so everyone can plan for it in advance," Emaleigh said. "Over the past few years, the community really has grown stronger and there are a lot of committed block residents who are active citizens and engaged in improving West Rockland Street."

It seems as if block-wide planting days and, among other events, block cleanups have started to pay off.

"Why not have a party to celebrate summer and people's hard work?" Emaleigh Doley said. "It's great to see so many families and kids enjoying themselves."

Later, a reality check

While a small fight was broken up near the end of last year's event, Saturday's block party went off with "zero disturbances."

Within 48 hours, though, police were back on the small block to respond to a call on West Rockland Street.

Officers drove to the scene over which a police helicopter would hover just before 10 p.m. Monday. Photos taken at the scene and provided to NewsWorks show a chaotic scene.

According to 39th District police, "a 911 caller said a large crowd of juveniles were fighting" on the street where, on Saturday, a large crowd of juveniles and adults celebrated community.

Witnesses maintained there were actually two dustups that required police response.

One, before sunset, was cleared out before police arrived. The second, for which the helicopter was beckoned, started when one teenage girl started fighting with a peer. That snowballed into a mass brawl near the steps of the DePaul Catholic School. Pieces of hair weave were visible along the street afterwards.

It was cleared as a "disturbance," and a department spokeswoman said no arrests were reported.

Nothing new

To the Doleys, it was emblematic of ongoing concerns.

"It's disappointing that, just a few days after the block party, there was such intense drama," Emaleigh Doley said. "It isn't everyday that a police helicopter has its search lights hovering over your house.

"Part of the problem is that there are large groups of unsupervised tweens and teens that have been roaming Southwest Germantown and using West Rockland as a hangout," she continued. "As you can see, it doesn't always turn out well."

Aine Doley said dozens of teens have turned the school steps into "loitering central. It's like an arcade, but without the games."

Among the problems, she said, is lack of curfew enforcement since "citing the families with money and fines" could make a difference.

Emaleigh Doley said that calls about adding "adequate security lighting" on the property have gone unreturned and that City Councilwoman Cindy Bass' office has been notified of the problems, though Bass spokesman Joe Corrigan said Tuesday that he did not recall hearing concerns about loitering.

"We've been in touch with staff at the school about this issue for several years now, but unfortunately, nothing has been done to help us manage the situation," she said.

School feels 'powerless' too

Sister Cheryl Ann Hillig, principal of DePaul Catholic, agreed that the loitering is an ongoing concern for both the community and the school itself but "I'm not exactly sure what we can do" to remedy the situation.

"They're doing it when the school is closed so no one is there," Hillig said Tuesday afternoon. "Our maintenance man is out there during the day to clean up when he's working, but every night they gather there, and it just looks horrible again. It's a constant thing."

As for the brighter lighting that's been suggested as a loitering deterrent, Hillig said the school "would be happy to do that as soon as we can get funding for it," but that money isn't readily available.

"We're just trying to do the best we can with it," Hillig said. "They're calling the Rockland Street side 'the blight of the block.' But, it's a losing battle with the kids out there. When [the maintenance man] does work at night, he's talked to parents, and to the kids, but they're just back out there again when he's gone.

"Residents feel powerless but, in a sense, we're powerless, too."

For now, both sides say they will keep plugging away to break that cycle.

"Aine and I know the types of environments and situations that breed trouble, and we've been working to combat that," Emaleigh Doley said, "but without help from other stakeholders, our work only goes so far."

This story was reported through a news coverage partnership between and

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