J.P. Miranda seeks state rep seat in 197th district, where he was born and raised
The 197th state House District is up for grabs in an upcoming special election — a state Representative seat that was left vacant when Jewell Williams resigned and was elected to become Sheriff of Philadelphia.
There are several candidates who would like to hold that position, among them Jewel Williams, daughter of Philadelphia’s new sheriff, and the venerable T. Milton Street. But J.P. Miranda, a young Democrat who was born, raised and resides in the district, thinks he has what it takes to represent this densely populated and poor section of the city.
“I started at a young age, at 19; City Council President Darrell Clarke brought me onto his staff and he showed me the ropes. He put me to work and allowed me to be creative on some things I wanted to do and get out in the community,” Miranda said. “From there I made the transition to state Senator Shirley Kitchen’s staff. She was another mentor and supporter and taught me very valuable lessons — among them she showed me tough love when I needed it. She guided me and without her influence I don’t think I’d be in this position right now. For the last four to five years I’ve just been doing different events. I think you have to show that you can be a valuable resource to the community before you even consider yourself worthy to run for any elected office. I started with free hair cut events and free book bags. We did holiday food giveaways.”
Miranda served in Clarke’s office as lead community liaison. Under state Senator Shirley Kitchen, he served as community liaison specializing in economic development and education.
At age 26, Miranda is already something of a role model. He’s never been arrested and has never been to prison, although his father was absent from his life. He was born and raised in the North Philadelphia area he wants to represent in Harrisburg. He was raised by a single mother who had six other children and yet didn’t turn down a path of self-destruction that so many other young Black men his age have chosen.
“I don’t think any other candidate who wants this seat has the governmental experience I’ve had, or the mentorship that I’ve been blessed with. I’ve been a resource for the community. Recently I did another Day of Respect. It’s an event of police and community interaction day when we shut down Erie Avenue — I don’t know of any other candidate who’s done something like that. We all know that in some of our communities there’s a lot of tension between the younger residents and the police. This was an opportunity for residents of the neighborhoods in the District to build relationships. We shut down Erie Avenue and put a stage out there with free food. And the police weren’t there to just stand guard, no — they had to interact with the people. It’s the 4th year the event has been going on, and even if we’re able to just get kids to be cordial to police officers, it helps because it gets rid of that tension. That’s what I try to be about, changing mentalities. You have to start at the basic level.”
Miranda credits after school programs with helping to keep him off the streets. He attended William Penn High School and furthered his education at West Chester University, where he majored in political science.
“We need after school programs, and right now because of state budget cuts, many of them will disappear. Mentoring does have an impact; I’m proof of that, and after school programs keep young people from getting involved in criminal activity — and I’m proof of that,” he said. “They continue to cut funding for needed programs, but increase funding for prisons — which makes no sense to me. I was able to see that there are options, and a lot of our young men and women don’t think they have options. Now yes, many of them aren’t going to listen, but a good many of them will. It can make a tremendous difference.”
The special elections will be held along with the state’s April 24 primary election. Democrat Jewell Williams gave up his seat in the 197th House District to become Philadelphia Sheriff, and Democrat Kenyatta Johnson and Republican Dennis O’Brien also stepped down from their 186th and 169th District seats to serve on City Council. Miranda said he hopes he’ll be given the chance to fill the void left by Williams.
“This is my community. I need to help make a change. Some of these young people need mentorship and leadership to make them understand that running to the streets isn’t the answer. Holding a gun in your hand makes someone feel powerful. We need to change that and help them redirect that energy. Going to school beats going to prison any day, and that’s what I preach to my peers,” he said.
For more information about Jose Miranda’s views and political platform, visit www.josemiranda2012.com.
Dawn Chavous and Kenyatta Johnson exchanged wedding vows on Dec. 18, a day before Dawn’s birthday, at Ebenezer Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South Philadelphia. Pastor Pete Palmer of Germantown SDA Church officiated the wedding and Pastor James Lovett from Tasker Street Baptist Church performed the vows. The gracious bride said, “We were very thankful to Pastor Samuel Hutchins and the Ebenezer Church family for hosting our wedding and ensuring we had a perfect day!”
Dawn was absolutely exquisite in an ivory silk, A-line sleeveless couture gown with two trains, one of which was detachable. It was accented with jeweled beading on the bodice and waist. The back was designed with an elegant low corset accented with ruching throughout. Her gown was selected from Bijou Bridal Boutique in Ardmore.
Pianist Toni Hall, flutist Kimberlyn Thompson and violinist Jack Drummond played during the prelude and throughout the ceremony. They are friends of the bride and her family, and the couple was especially thankful for their support.
Dawn, 31, is the daughter of Barbara Chavous and Robert Chavous. Her stepmother is Elizabeth Chavous. Dawn’s maternal grandmother, the late Lois Jean Miller Cheatham, and paternal grandparents, the late James and Estelle Chavous, were lovingly remembered. Oliver Cheatham is her maternal grandfather.
Dawn did her undergraduate work at Ursinus College, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. She earned a master’s degree in organizational dynamics, specializing in leadership management and organizational development from the University of Pennsylvania. Dawn worked for state Sen. Anthony H. Williams for nine years, serving as his chief of staff and director of education. She ran his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and began her own consulting firm shortly thereafter, specializing in education reform, community outreach and political campaigns. She is currently the executive director of Students First PA, a nonprofit organization created to advocate for education reform policies to ensure all children have access to high quality educational options.
Kenyatta, 38, is the son of Yvonne Martin and the late Gregory White. His stepfather is Ronald Martin. His maternal grandparents are Bernice Hughes and Vincent Hughes. His paternal grandmother is Pauline White. Kenyatta earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in government administration and public finance from the University of Pennsylvania Fels School of Government. He held a seat as state representative for the 186th District for three years and is now a Philadelphia city councilman, becoming the first African American to represent the Second Councilmanic District on Jan. 2. Prior to being in elected office, Kenyatta worked for state Sent. Anthony H. Williams as his crime and safety liaison and was the founder of Peace Not Guns Inc., a nonprofit created to address crime and violence in local neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
The Proposal — in the Bride’s Words
Dawn and Kenyatta were introduced by the late former state Sen. Hardy Williams.
“Kenyatta arranged a sunset picnic on Dewey Beach in Rehoboth, Delaware,” said Dawn. “It was absolutely beautiful. He also hired a photographer who was disguising himself the entire time while he was secretly taking pictures of us. During the course of our meal, Kenyatta knelt on one knee and grabbed my hand and started telling me how much I meant to him. He plays around so much that when he asked me to marry him, I didn’t take him seriously and thought he was kidding. Then, he pulled out a ring box. Silly me, I still didn’t believe him until he told me to open the box and I saw a huge diamond ring inside. I was absolutely surprised and shocked at the same time. After adjusting to what was happening, I said yes; it was absolutely beautiful, romantic and funny! I laugh to myself just thinking about it. He got me good.”
The Bridal Party
The bride’s attendants, wearing beautiful cranberry gowns, were: her sister Tiffany Chavous, Sara Scott, Enid Colon, Tamela Cowans and Dorian Gonzalez.
The groomsmen, handsome in traditional black tuxedos, were Ronald Felder, Christopher Washington, Ernest Jackson, Darnell Palmer, Clifford Grant and David Hall.
The arrival of the bride was announced by Gavin Gonzalez, son of Mr. and Mrs. Marc Gonzalez. Ushers were Fateen Bullock, Clifford Cahoon, Desaree Jones, Aaron Scott, Michael Scott and Tiphanie White.
“It was a beautiful, perfect day. Really, nothing went wrong. The weather was great, considering we were in the middle of December. We were very happy it didn’t snow! We loved every minute of the day. I got dressed with my mother and bridesmaids at the Warwick Hotel and we took pictures on Broad Street with City Hall as the backdrop after the dessert reception at the church. We were so blessed to have all of our family and close friends together,” Dawn reflected. Many of the couple’s guests flew in from other states including South Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Illinois.
Dawn shared that Kenyatta was very much involved in the wedding planning process. He selected the engagement ring by himself. They selected their wedding bands together. He attended the cake-tasting and selected the flavors. He also took the lead in selecting the wedding music that would be played as the bride and the bridal party walked down the aisle.
“Kenyatta coordinated the transportation for the bridal party, the dessert reception, the program, invitation list... he was a very active groom and had his hands in everything,” said Dawn.
Among the family and friends sharing this very special day with Dawn and Kenyatta were his Pennsylvania House colleagues, state Reps. W. Curtis Thomas, Ron Waters and Vanessa Brown, and state Rep. Kevin Murphy from Lackawanna County. Brown’s ShopRite owner Jeff Brown and his wife, Sandy; state Sen. Anthony H. Williams and his wife, Shari Williams; David Hyman and his wife, Farah Jimenez; Sharmain Matlock-Turner and her husband, Tony Turner; Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Boyer; Stephen Cohen and his wife, Arlene; Kenny Gamble and his wife, Fatima; Rahim Islam; Lana Watkins; A. Bruce Crawley; Anthony Fullard; Wanda Bailey Green and Lynette Brown-Sow, who did a wonderful job as the wedding coordinator and whom the couple described as “priceless.” I extend special thanks to Lana Watkins for her public relations assistance.
One of the most touching moments was Dawn surprising Kenyatta by singing to him during their wedding. He asked her a few weeks before the wedding if she would sing, but she didn’t give him an answer because she didn’t know if she would be up to it, given all that goes on during the course of a wedding day. In addition to serving as an education and political consultant, Dawn is also a professional vocalist, having produced a CD a few years ago. She primarily sings for church and private events. The only person who knew about the surprise was Pastor Palmer. It was an amazing expression of love and everyone, especially Kenyatta, was truly touched.
The couple honeymooned on three islands in French Polynesia, Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. All of the islands were absolutely beautiful, said Dawn.
“It was the most amazing places we’ve ever been to. The water was crystal-clear and the garden and overwater bungalows were amazing. We had such a great time. When leaving the Pacific islands, we spent a few days in Los Angeles before flying back to Philadelphia,” Dawn said.
“We are very excited to be husband and wife and will continue to keep God first in our lives and marriage and look forward to many happy years together,” they shared.
Congratulations and very best wishes are extended to Mr. and Mrs. Kenyatta Johnson!
From one end of Philadelphia to the other, virtually no neighborhood — from Society Hill to Grays Ferry and from University City to Strawberry Mansion — is exempt from the senseless violence that seems to have a vice-like grip on Philadelphia.
According to law enforcement experts, among the top ten cities in the nation, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst, with young Black males between the ages of 17 to 25 consistently being the majority of the victims and perpetrators. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to inch up again. To put the figures in context, there have been 183 murders in Philadelphia as of Tribune press time. By contrast, one U.S. serviceman was killed in Iraq in 2012. In 2011, there were 324 murder victims in Philadelphia, again, mostly Black males. In Iraq for that same year, 54 U.S. servicemen were killed.
The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer in Iraq fighting insurgents than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
The contributing causes of what drives the senseless violence in Philadelphia seem to defy the best efforts of lawmakers, community leaders and anti-violence advocates to curtail it. Mentoring has been shown to work, but is there enough funding to sustain a major effort to reach the at-risk population? The at-risk population needs living wage jobs, but statistics show that most of the perpetrators of the violence are high school, or even junior high school dropouts with long records of arrests and incarcerations. Then there are the illegal guns. The Gun Violence Task Force has confiscated thousands of illegal weapons since its inception, and still the violence continues. Over and over the refrain is heard from residents and government representatives alike – “We must do something about the violence in our neighborhoods.”
The question is what?
At the ninth Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relation, Mayor Michael Nutter put the issue in context when he compared the country’s reaction to Black on Black crime and its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75 percent of those killed were Black men. Around 80 percent of those doing the killing are Black men. Black on Black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.”
In 2004, on the morning of Feb. 11, 10-year old Faheem Thomas-Childs was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at the T.M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia. The killing of Thomas-Childs touched off citywide outrage - and he was only one of 330 people killed that year in the city.
During military operations in Iraq from 2007 to 2012, 1,482 American service members were killed. In Philadelphia for the same years, 1,654 people were killed — mostly Black males. To color that number even more, according to Philadelphia Police Department figures, 645 Black males between the ages of 17 and 25 were murdered in Philadelphia during those years. By contrast, 27 Black males between the same ages were fatally shot by police officers in the commission of their duties.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community, and most of the victims are young Black males. The reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men.”
Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, said a major part of the problem lies in young Black men returning to their communities from prison and finding limited or no resources in helping them secure living wage jobs.
“We’re not doing nearly enough from an economic standpoint, and we have to truly level the economic and educational playing fields. In both areas, we see what we can almost define as a kind of apartheid,” Lassiter said. “We have major corporations here and major sports franchises - but no training programs to move workers into employment within them. Also, there’s not enough being done in the construction industry in terms of apprenticeships. Are there mentoring programs? Attorney General Eric Holder giving $3 million to hire twenty five police officers doesn’t excite me. I’d like to see that money used to target and prosecute the traffickers of illegal guns.”
Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, Inc., said his organization is in the planning stages of setting up a national level conference on Black on Black crime. Call to Action: Black on Black Violence Conference will be hosted by St. Joseph’s University and will take place from August 10 through August 13. The purpose is to bring African American leaders together from across the country to see what works and what doesn’t, and how to apply successful anti-violence approaches in their cities and communities.
“What works in Baltimore might not work in Philadelphia. What works in Philadelphia may not work in Newark. We are 13 percent of the population of America, but cause 50 percent of the homicides - and we’ve been trying to get a hold on this for years. It requires a response on the national level. What we hope to achieve with the conference is create a national movement to help end the violence. We need to look at fresh models and create a national network of groups to work on the problem,” Qayyum said.
While slain civil rights leader Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often dreamed that his nonviolent crusade would lead to racial equality, he also envisioned the arrival of housing and economic fairness that would lead the downtrodden out of sub-human living conditions.
If alive to see the transformation of the decrepit Hawthorne Square housing project and its immediate surroundings, King himself would be proud.
That was the overriding sentiment when city and housing officials on Wednesday unveiled a plaque at 13th and Fitzwater streets, renaming the vicinity Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. Symbolically, the renaming of the plaza brings to a close at least one of the chapters of public housing in the city; planners decided to name the new plaza after King to memorialize his famous visit here in 1965, when he addressed hundreds of Hawthorne residents and demanded fair and equal housing for them.
“We continue to feel the ripple effects of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was a direct result” of King’s work in that arena, said Philadelphia Housing Authority Commissioner Karen Newton Cole. “So it is really important that, moving forward, we commemorate what Martin Luther King did, especially as it relates to housing.”
King visited what was then known as Hawthorne Square for a two-day visit, August 2–3, 1965, and more than an estimated 2,300 people gathered on that corner to hear him speak. In 1970, longtime politician James Tayoun — then the councilman for the district that included Hawthorne Square — petitioned PHA to change its name. Tayoun was also one of the earlier supporters of King’s visit to Philadelphia — a notion that wasn’t all too popular at the time.
“We are standing on hallowed ground,” the veteran politician said, joining the ranks of Council members Jannie Blackwell and Kenyatta Johnson — who grew up in the neighborhood — who made stirring remarks about the neighborhood’s transformation. “It’s hallowed because I remember the faces of the young men and women who died here because they couldn’t get affordable housing. It’s my pleasure to have a small part in his role here.”
PHA Administrative Receiver and Executive Director Michael P. Kelly echoed the sentiment of many when he said that Dr. King, “on this spot, held a rally that addressed economic injustice and housing for the poor. Those ideas are still valid today.”
The negative impact of the housing policy to warehouse the very poor in high-rise dwellings that lack the necessary social infrastructure cannot be overstated. Dr. William Tucker, president of the Philadelphia MLK Center for Nonviolence said King should be commended for bringing attention to the housing disparity, noting that the late leader spoke out when authorities began “substituting horizontal slums with vertical slums,” Tucker said. “Now, Philadelphia is ahead of the curve in eliminating housing projects.”
Mayor Nutter, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and a host of other city and state politicians also praised the works of King. The dedication also commemorates the 40th anniversary of his assassination.
MLK Plaza joins Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as two of the city’s most prominent renaming initiatives, and joins a nationwide trend of cities embracing King with major renaming moves. CNN reported that more than 900 cities have streets named after King, and Memphis, Tennessee — where King was slain while on the balcony of a downtown hotel — is finally dealing with its past and renaming a one-mile stretch of Linden Avenue in King’s honor.
Departing, Blackwell was reminded of King’s overriding compassion.
“Nothing is more important when we think of Dr. Martin Luther King than love,” Blackwell said. “During a time when people were deathly afraid, King stood up for them, and loved them.”
Philadelphia is on track to set a murder record this year — 75 percent of them with handguns — and city officials are trying to find new ways to stem the flow of blood.
Already the city has the highest murder rate of the nation’s 10 largest cities, a distinction it’s held since 2006.
And, the guns keep popping — with 208 murders this year, “Killadelphia” is earning its notoriety.
“Gun violence is the biggest problem we have,” said City Councilman Bill Greenlee. “The gun violence in this city is completely ridiculous, and we have to be open to everything and everybody to try and solve it.”
Greenlee was one of a handful of council members who attended a roundtable discussion with a group called GunCrisis.org on Tuesday at City Hall. The event, hosted by Majority Leader Curtis Jones, was intended to spark a discussion on how the city can deal with the murder epidemic.
GunCrisis.org was started by former Daily News photographer Jim McMillan, who launched it in March.
McMillan said he grew tired of documenting the city’s crime epidemic, and decided to do what he could to help end it. While he admitted that a number of factors go into creating the problem, he said that too much time was lost in discussing them and not enough on just trying to get people to lay down their guns.
“We have to avoid getting paralyzed by the myriad of social problems and causes, and just say, ‘what if we stop shooting?’” he said.
The toll in lives is particularly heavy in the Black community. Statistically, urban Black men are 200 times more likely to be murdered then their white counterparts. According to the Philadelphia Police Department, from January 2007 until June, 645 Black males between the ages of 7 and 25 were murdered in Philadelphia.
But, it has an enormous cost for the entire city.
“This is a pressing issue for all of us — no matter what part of the city you live in,” said Jones.
According to figures unveiled Tuesday, the total cost of the city’s violent crime to each resident is about $2,400. A 10 percent reduction in crime would save the city $17 million a year, or $240 per resident. A 25 percent reduction would save approximately $44 million annually.
McMillan said he endorsed a concept that has worked in Chicago, where violent crime is treated like a public health epidemic — using the same three steps that health officials used when faced with a health crisis: isolation, interruption and behavior modification.
Council members said they were open to any possible solution.
“We’ve tried lots of things, unfortunately, nothing has worked yet,” Greenlee said. “I listen to the news every night and think ‘My God, there is another person in the city getting killed.’”
Finding a way to end the violence is vital.
“In order for us to for us to move forward as a city, we have to have a safe city,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “I’m here to make sure that as we move forward, we have a progressive and an aggressive agenda focusing on the issue of gun violence.”
Hundreds filled the streets of South Philadelphia to attend the annual community appreciation day event hosted by state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, whose district covers the south and southwest Philadelphia area.
“This is one of my favorite events throughout my legislative year,” Johnson said. “It’s an opportunity for family, friends, children and the community to come together for a day filled with food, fun and entertainment.”
While adults had an opportunity to meet and greet local legislators, community activists as well as fellowship with one another in a safe environment, children were able to play on the moon bounce and enjoy the other recreational activities provided for their entertainment as well.
“It’s always great when you can have the community come out in a day filled with fun, entertainment, free food and, most importantly unity,” Johnson said. “For me, that’s what it is all about: unifying the community and making sure our children and the community are having a good time.”
Johnson believes providing such opportunities to of live and to allow residents to enjoy themselves and get to know one another, could help to relieve some of these burdens and hardships.
“We know we are having tough economic times right now but I have made it a priority to focus on public-private partnerships to make sure that we have resources so our children, our families and our seniors can have a good time in our communities,” Johnson said.
Asked about his demanding schedule and his reputation for staying involved and active in both South and Southwest Philadelphia while being required to spend three days a week in Harrisburg, Johnson chalks it up to his love for what he does.
“This is a 24/7 job but I love my job and so for me getting up and serving the people everyday is easy because I love what I do,” he said. “When you love what you do you get a sense of joy and power based on your work and I enjoy it.”
Asked about his future plans, Johnson, who won the highly contested Democratic primary for City Council’s 1st District seat, noted his title might change once seated on the council but his mission will remain the same.
“For me, whether I am serving them in Harrisburg or in the city, at the end of the day, for me, it’s about serving the people and I enjoy doing it,” he said.
Several speakers were present at the event discussing community issues.
Jordan Harris, of the city’s Youth Commission, state rep. Ronald G. Waters and Bill Rubin, candidate for 10th district city council, took opportunities to address the crowd.
“It is communities like this that is going to bring back the neighborhoods that we once had,” Harris said. “What we have witnessed this summer is the deterioration of neighborhoods and it takes people like those gathered here today to not only enjoy themselves but to spend time with their communities that will bring back us back.”
Two children, ages 10 and 2, were among the latest victims of senseless gun violence in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia Tuesday night — an incident that started as a fight between young people and escalated into a potentially deadly confrontation.
Tuesday’s shooting started around 7:30 p.m. and was the latest incident involving blazing guns and innocent children caught in the crossfire. Tuesday’s incident mirrors an earlier shooting last Sunday in which a 6-year-old girl was struck by a bullet.
Among those wounded Tuesday night where 59-year-old Andrea Cooper, who was struck in the leg, her granddaughter 2-year-old Aisha Owens, wounded in the stomach and hand and Cooper’s grandson, 10-year-old Siyir Owens, who was also struck in the right leg. Another 25-year-old male was also wounded in the finger.
Aisha Owens remains in critical condition as of Tribune press time. The other victims are in stable condition and are expected to recover.
Investigators said that what sparked the shooting was a brawl between at least three girls who are students at South Philadelphia High School — a fight stemmed from an unruly Facebook posting back in July.
“This started behind some nonsense at South Philadelphia High School,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who was at the scene of the crime. “Basically it was a fight between some girls that spilled over onto the streets. At least two of the girls went to a house in the 1200 block of South Bucknell Street where one of the girls, a 14-year-old they were fighting with, was staying with her grandparents.
According to Ramsey, the two girls brought a group of men along with them and managed to force their way into the home.
“They started a physical confrontation, some males arrived with some sticks, golf clubs, so it continued into a physical confrontation,” Ramsey said. “They literally forced their way into the home and then tried to force the 14-year-old female out. Some other guys in the neighborhood came to see what was happening and that was when the males in both groups began shooting. We’re just really fortunate that no one was killed. It had nothing to do with Wall Street going up or down, I can tell you that. It was some dumb crap that they were fighting over that means absolutely nothing — and now we’re talking about a 2-year-old who is in surgery because of these ignorant people who are out here.”
Police say they are looking for a suspect described as a Black male, 25 to 30 years old, 6 feet tall with a heavy build, about 210 pounds. The second gunman is described as a Black male in his early 20s with a dark complexion.
“There have been several shootings in this community lately, and all of them have been tragic and senseless,” said state Representative Kenyatta Johnson. “I understand that this latest incident started at South Philadelphia High School, which one of the reasons why I’ve been aggressive on dealing with school violence — it always spills over into the surrounding community and usually escalates. Although the identities of the gunmen aren’t known yet, I know the police are aggressively working on this case — but it takes the community to get involved and get involved right from the start. There was a crowd standing around watching this unfold. People need to call police right away when they see something about to jump off. This isn’t entertainment; it’s not reality television. You would think people would have called 911 and say ‘trouble is starting out here, send some officers.’ When police catch up to these two gunmen and arrest them, I hope that the sentence they’re given will put them under the jail.”
Tuesday night’s incident is just the latest where children have been wounded by gunfire in South Philadelphia. On Sunday, 6-year-old Denean Thomas was hit in the leg by a bullet. Thomas is listed in stable condition at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and police have made two arrests in that case.
The suspects have been identified as 17-year-old Charles Rice and 19-year-old Tyler Linder. Both young men have been charged with three counts of aggravated assault, conspiracy, weapons offenses, simple assault, reckless endangerment and related charges.
According to law enforcement authorities the shooting happened on September 26th at around 9:35 p.m. in the 1600 block of South 18th Street. Investigators report that a 23-year-old female, a 17-year-old male and Thomas, were sitting in front of a residence when Rice and Linder allegedly approached them, pulled out handguns and proceeded to open fire.
Their target was the 17-year-old male, whose name has not been released yet by authorities.
Police are still unraveling Sunday night’s incident but believe it was in retaliation for an earlier shooting involving two local street gangs.
“This was a turf war,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good, hardworking people in this community, but we also have some individuals who just don’t have the community’s best interests in mind. We can’t keep them from going down that path and unfortunately, we’ll have to deal harshly with them.”
Commissioner Ramsey said that so far, there’s nothing to indicate that the shooting on Sunday night and Tuesday night’s incident were related.
“Obviously the investigation will take us where it takes us but so far, there’s nothing that indicates they were related,” he said. “Right now it does look like Sunday night’s incident was gang related.”
Four candidates — possibly five — are gearing up to replace former state representative, now city Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in the 186th District.
Former candidate for City Council Damon Roberts, former Youth Commissioner Jordan Harris, ward leader Edward Nesmith and businessman Fawwaz “Jazz” Beyha have all thrown their hats in the ring.
It’s also rumored that former Rep. Harold James is going to try to recapture the seat he held for years.
James could not be reached Thursday for comment.
The race is complicated by several factors: the date for the vote, a special election, has not been set, and the boundary lines of the district are shifting under the state’s redistricting plan, so voters may be uncertain if they are even eligible to participate. In addition, the redistricting plan is facing a likely court challenge, which could further complicate things.
The speaker of the Pennsylvania House will schedule the special election to fill the seat.
Additionally, without an incumbent bringing the considerable resources typically commanded by incumbents to the race, the field is wide open. Johnson held the seat until January, when he resigned to take his new position as Council representative for the Second District. He held office as state representative for less than two terms.
James held it before that.
It’s likely that all the names on a potential ballot are familiar to voters in the district, which encompasses Southwest and a portion of South Philadelphia.
Roberts, a real estate attorney, has campaigned twice in recent years for the Second District Council seat. In his last campaign, he jousted against Johnson before ultimately dropping out and endorsing Johnson.
At the time, talk of a deal — denied by both candidates — surrounded the news of Roberts’ withdrawal. So it was widely expected that should Roberts run for the House seat, Johnson would endorse him. Instead, it was Harris who captured Johnson’s endorsement — and that of his sponsor and mentor state Sen. Anthony H. Williams Jr.
Roberts, for his part, remained philosophical.
“At the end of the day, every candidate is going to have their supporters and their detractors,” he said.
Roberts prefers to look to the future.
“I don’t believe that there is anybody better prepared to make a difference,” he said. Noting the diversity of the district, he added: “I believe I’m best prepared to represent everyone in that district. We do have a lot of issues, and I’m passionate about the issues.”
His career as an attorney will serve constituents well, he said.
“When you have a legislature that is so overwhelmingly Republican it’s going to take a master negotiator like me to get the job done,” he said.
Harris has the blessing of Johnson and Williams. That backing could give him a leg up among voters.
It will also give him an advantage if he wins, he said.
“Because of the relationship we have, we’ll be able to get a lot of things done,” Harris said. “And, to continue the work I started with Senator Williams and Councilman Johnson.”
Before resigning to run for office, Harris led the city’s Youth Commission. He has a history of community and political involvement, having first met Williams when he was still in high school, he said, and working with both the state senator and Johnson for years on various issues, among them Johnson’s Peace Not Guns initiative.
Harris said he felt compelled to give back to the community he grew up in and where he has spent his life.
I call myself a son of South Philly,” he said. “It’s my duty to give back.”
Nesmith, Democratic leader in the 2nd Ward, is a long-time ward leader, committeeman and activist. He sums up his qualifications in one brief sentence, “Experience, knowledge, service, the ability to get things done.”
Though the bulk of his political experience comes from being a committeeman and ward leader, that is not his prime qualification for the job, he said.
“I’m running on my service record, helping people,” he said. “That’s what people need to focus on.”
It is his second attempt to capture the seat. Nesmith ran for state representative against Harold James in 1994.
Beyha, too, is well known throughout the district, where most people know him as “Jazz.”
“I’m a community developer and a community employer,” he said, noting that he has six businesses in the district, from barbershops to a hair salon and a real estate development company. “I’m the largest minority employer in South Philadelphia outside of Kenny Gamble and Universal Companies.”
Beyha has never held elected office, but saw Johnson’s resignation as a chance to run.
He said he would bring greater community involvement to the post.
“I’m tied in on a community level,” he said. “As far as community ties are concerned, I’m the most connected to the community.”
Mother of five killed in Grays Ferry
The manhunt is on for a second suspect in the killing of a Grays Ferry woman who was just standing on her porch when gunfire exploded on the 1500 block of Corlies Street on Friday, April 20.
Clarice Douglas, 45, a mother of five, was standing on her front porch waiting for her children to come home from school when she was caught in the crossfire between two young Black males at 2:30 p.m. Law enforcement authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Shekinah Williams, a 28-year-old Black male from the 2100 block of Sears Street, and the Citizen’s Crime Commission is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Investigators allege that Williams was involved in a shootout with another Hakeem Burley, 23, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire that left Douglas dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
Police recovered a .45 caliber handgun and 18 shell casings from the scene.
Williams and Burley are no strangers to law enforcement. In 2000, Williams was 17 and pleaded guilty to robbery, possessing an instrument of crime and criminal conspiracy, and was sentenced to four to eight years in prison. A few months before, he was arrested for aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, weapons offenses and simple assault. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to marijuana possession. At age 16, in 2004, Burley was arrested for robbery, burglary, weapons offenses, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats and related charges.
Douglas is just the latest victim of gun violence in South Philadelphia. On March 21, two children having fun inside a playground were wounded when they were caught in the crossfire between two other young Black males with guns. Fortunately, their wounds were not fatal. The day before, on March 20 there was a double shooting at 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of 5th and Pierce streets that left two men wounded.
“Regarding this recent shooting, we have one person being held and we recovered a gun. We have some direction on the second suspect. As for the other recent incidents, there could be a lot of things causing the violence in that part of town,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “It could be disputes between different gangs, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be something as simple as looking at another person in the wrong way, or an argument over a female. Basically, there is no shortage of thugs with guns who are not afraid to fire over any dispute. It can even be a spur of the moment thing.”
On March 29, police say a 24-year-old man was shot twice in the buttocks just before 2 a.m. at 26th and Jackson streets. The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in stable condition. A few days before, on March 21, two children were wounded by gunfire at Sach’s Playground at 4th Street and Washington Avenue. Investigators believe that shooting was touched of by an earlier incident in the vicinity.
On March 20, police were called to the vicinity of 5th and Pierce streets in response to a double shooting that also happened in the afternoon, this time around 3:30 p.m. Two males were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in stable condition. On March 30, a 19-year-old woman was shot in the abdomen just before 11:30 p.m. in the 1200 block of South 13th Street. Surveillance cameras captured images of the suspect, a young Black male in his teens or early twenties demanding money. The woman tried to defend herself with mace.
Club Onyx, at 2900 South Columbus Boulevard has been the scene of several shootings and robberies in recent months. The last one happened on February 23 when a man was critically shot outside the strip club in the early morning hours. The suspect, 25-year-old Kyle Carter, was arrested a few days later. According to police, Carter was involved an argument with the victim, who died from his wounds a week later. During the argument Carter allegedly took out a gun and shot the victim in the neck.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who lives in the district. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community — and most of the victims are young Black males. This last murder has left five children without their mother, and I was just down in the vicinity a couple of weeks ago for another shooting. But the reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men. Just today I was at the Youth Study Center, listening to some of the teens on the inside regarding what kind of support and encouragement they need that will help them turn themselves onto a better path. Now they all had suggestions, but one of them stood up and said that what’s really needed are parents who keep a firm hand on them. He said if his parents had really stayed on him about the consequences of his actions, he might have made better decisions.”
At the 9th Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations, Mayor Michael Nutter said the country’s reaction to Black-on-Black crime is astounding when seen from the perspective of its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. And so, these folks quickly fall back into the criminal lifestyle to make ends meet.”
As Philadelphia’s murder rate soars, officials are grappling with ways to contain the violence, which has claimed more than 300 lives this year.
“How come as a city we are not in an outrage?” asked Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who this week held a roundtable to discuss ways to end the problem. “We have to get to a level of activism that we take back the city.”
The event, held Wednesday at city hall, drew participants from local universities and hospitals who couched talk of the epidemic of violence in terms of public health. In addition to Johnson, council members Curtis Jones and Dennis O’Brien also attended.
This year, 316 people have been murdered, putting the city on track to break previous records. Murder is only one measure of violence. According to Ralph Taylor, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University, for every one murder, there are 94 other incidents of violence, a fact that pushes violence in Philadelphia to epidemic levels.
The vast majority of those incidents involve African Americans.
“If you take it in context, all of the African Americans killed by other African Americans - it is more than all of the lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan in the history of the organization,” said Jones.
Experts gathered around the table agreed that the solution to the problem lies in the community.
Violence begets violence, creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself.
“Exposure to violence and stress and trauma has an effect,” said John Rich, chair of health management and policy at Drexel University’s School of Public Health.
People who are repeatedly exposed to violence often exhibit symptoms similar to those of soldiers in war. In reaction, they get jittery, often begin self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, and they arm themselves because they don’t feel safe.
“They develop many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Rich said.
The cycle will only continue as long as children are exposed to violence.
“Philadelphians will not be safe until their children are safe,” he said.
While lauding Johnson for hosting the event, Charles Williams, a psychologist from Drexel, said the problem cannot be legislated or policed away.
The epidemic will end only when the community steps up, children realize they have a future, and the city’s leaders get serious about solving the problem.
“Politicians need to say ‘We can’t do this alone. It’s 50/50. You have to meet us half way,” said Williams. “What we have to do is be honest with the community.”
That is often politically unpleasant.
Williams pointed to the fact that Philadelphia has more Black leaders than most other cities in the country, yet deep rooted problems in the African-American community persist.
“We have the highest dropout rate, the highest crime rate, one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates, one of the highest teen pregnancy rates,” he said.
This week’s roundtable was part of a larger effort spearheaded by Johnson that includes monthly gatherings where he, other council members and people from the community can exchange ideas.