And then there was one.
Dr. William R. Hite Jr., is the next superintendent and CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission announced Friday.
Hite was one of two finalists for the job. The other, Pedro Martinez, has been named superintendent of Reno, Nevada-based Washoe County School District, that district’s Board of Trustees announced Friday.
However, even before the Martinez’s announcement, Hite seemed the obvious choice.
He met this week with school and city leaders and was endorsed by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chairman of the education committee, and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Hite comes to Philadelphia from the Prince George’s County Public Schools system in Maryland, where he oversaw the nation’s eighth-largest school district, one that educates 135,000 students and contains 200 schools.
His resume also includes a stint as assistant superintendent for Atlanta’s Cobb County School District before his PGCS appointment, where he was responsible for 15 schools and 18,000 students.
The Philadelphia school district has over 160,000 students.
In Prince George’s County, Hite was known for his work on Intensive Support and Intervention Schools to support the most needy schools and at-risk students, while forging a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
He also led PGCS through a massive reorganization, a skill on which Hite will need to rely heavily as Philadelphia’s superintendent.
Announcing the SRC’s selection, Chairman Pedro A. Ramos said, “Today, we take a giant step toward providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children. Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader.”
Mayor Michael Nutter stated, “I was very impressed with Dr. Hite’s passion and commitment to educating children, support for the professional development of teachers and principals, and his dedication to working with the broader Philadelphia community. He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia. I would like to thank Wendell Pritchett for leading this effort by chairing the search committee and to all of the members of the community who attended meetings, offered advice and were involved in this thorough process.”
For a decade, Philadelphia’s school superintendents have been lightning rods for criticism.
Hite’s immediate predecessor, Arlene Ackerman, left last year under a barrage of controversy, with criticism from parents, the mayor and City Council for her handling of items ranging from school reform to budget negotiations with the city.
The new superintendent will be faced with a growing budget crisis and ongoing reform efforts.
With a budget deficit that is now poised to jump from $218 million to more than $270 million, the SRC will either have to implement another round of cuts, on top of already deep cuts, or borrow to close its spending gap. Already the district, its students and parents are dealing with several rounds of layoffs and furloughs.
Martinez’ sudden exit from the running came early Friday with a statement from the Washoe County School District.
“We are excited to welcome Pedro Martinez to the Washoe County School District. In addition to strong leadership, Pedro brings a tremendous amount of passion for high-quality education, our 63,000 children, and this community. As we continue to move our school district forward, we know Pedro will continue the important work in our strategic plan and will do that work by talking with everyone in our schools and community,” said Board President Ken Grein in a statement released by the WCSD. “We are thrilled to welcome him, and we know our successes will continue as he assumes this critical role.”
WCSD has 63,000 students and includes schools in Reno, Incline Village, Gerlach and Wadsworth.
Martinez and Hite Jr. survived an extensive vetting process that included more than a dozen other candidates. By the time it was all over on Friday, Hite said he was happy to have been chosen.
“Philadelphia is one of America’s greatest cities, and I am excited about the opportunities that it offers. I look forward to working with the leaders and families of this city as we work to improve the lives of our youth,” said Hite.
While details surrounding the transition are still being determined, Search Team Chair and SRC Commissioner Dr. Wendell Pritchett reiterated the SRC’s commitment to an open and transparent process. “We will make Dr. Hite’s contract public as soon as it is finalized,” said Pritchett.
Philadelphia City Council passed a bill on Thursday guaranteed to make more than a few of my neighbors angry.
The bill, sponsored by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, would allow the city, by means of eminent domain, to seize 43 properties abandoned or blighted properties in Point Breeze, 17 of those properties privately owned, to ensure a mix of affordable housing in the booming neighborhood.
I live in Point Breeze, and Johnson is my Councilman. I’ll give him this – he’s about as visible and accessible a representative as you could ask for. I see the guy all the time. He’s talking to neighbors, sweeping up the trash, and conducting walking tours for fellow politicians. He has his finger on the pulse of the community, and on this bill, he’s been listening to what they tell him.
First, let’s talk about the underlying cause of the consternation over Johnson’s bill, and that angst can be summed up in one ugly word – gentrification.
A predominantly Black neighborhood for generations, Point Breeze in recent years has seen an upsurge in young, white hipsters moving in. For that, you can’t really blame the hipsters. Their parents abandoned Black neighborhoods in the ’60s, and now they’re lured back by the inexpensive housing market and the neighborhood’s proximity to Center City nightlife.
Developers see that happening, and pounce on every property they can get their hands on. Some they transform into expensive single-family homes, some they convert to apartments, and some they allow to lie fallow, waiting for the financing to redevelop.
Meanwhile, longtime residents, who for years put up with feeling abandoned by city government, are now at the center of the action, and fear the increased development will drive up property values, which could tax them out of the community they love.
It’s not an unfounded fear – the pattern has been repeated in cities all over the country, where grandmothers who’ve owned their homes for decades must move out because they can no longer afford the property tax increases that come with gentrification. I have a friend in San Francisco who calls gentrification “The Negro Removal Plan” because it has dramatically reduced the size and density of Black neighborhoods there.
As a consequence, Johnson’s bill is seen by some as a line in the sand – protecting longtime residents from greedy developers. It is seen by others as an impediment to progress – standing in the way of legitimate business and chasing money out of the city.
Developers see money – and they should. That’s what they do, and they shouldn’t be faulted for their one-dimensional thinking. Those properties you couldn’t give away a few years ago are being sold today at a king’s ransom. They don’t see the residents as salt-of-the-earth neighbors, they don’t see the properties as hearth and home – they see people standing between them and their profits.
And last, but never least, there’s the growing racial animosity involved whenever the word gentrification comes up.
Many of my new white neighbors are distrustful, and let’s be honest – afraid – of their recently chosen environment. You can tell. While some of the new neighbors go out of their way to speak and be friendly, others walk past silently with their heads down, avoiding eye contact. They make no effort to engage, and that causes some resentment among folks who see it as either aloof or disrespectful.
There are stories floating around about some new residents’ refusal to clean up their dogs’ droppings, or who move six or eight people into a house – all of whom own cars – leaving longtime residents to park wherever they can, often blocks away. Then there are the usual neighborhood complaints – noise, trash, whatever – that are instantly multiplied and escalated when race is involved.
The sad part is that if money could be removed from the equation, there’s a chance both sides could come together to form a compromise, if not an actual community. But you can’t remove money as a factor, because money is where the issue begins and ends.
I understand the developers’ desire to reap the financial rewards of investing in a neighborhood forgotten by their real estate colleagues. But I also understand the social and human ramifications of using financial status as a wedge – slowly marginalizing the poor and disregarding them as essential to the fabric of a community.
It is a dilemma as old as the Constitution, and as American as apple pie. The problem is, most of us have come to understand that when an issue comes down to people versus profit, there’s always a clear winner.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
Dry run of voter ID law, get out the vote efforts
Candidates, their campaign staffs, and city officials, were bracing for a particularly difficult Election Day today as Pennsylvania voters head to the polls to cast their vote in the spring primary.
“It’s an unusually complex environment,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. “I think there is going to be a lot of scrutiny of this election.”
In addition to the typical challenges voters face — which candidate to choose — voters in this primary also have to deal with the “soft roll out” of the state’s new voter ID law.
Though the law does not go into effect until the Nov. 6 election, poll workers will be asking voters for a photo ID this time in an effort to get a handle on how many lack the identification required for the fall.
“This is just a dry run,” Singer said. “You will do nothing differently.”
But, the change has everyone from candidates to volunteers paying a little more attention.
“You are going to make this happen,” Damon K. Roberts, a candidate for the state House, told volunteers at a training session for polling place volunteers Monday morning at his Dickinson Street office. “Victory needs to be on your face.”
It was crunch time and similar scenes were playing out all over the city and state. Every seat in the state House is up for grabs, as are half the seats in the state Senate.
In addition, Pennsylvania voters will choose their party’s candidates for president, U.S. senator and representative, state attorney general, treasurer and auditor general. In Philadelphia, which is overwhelmingly made up of Democratic voters, the primary often determines who ultimately wins in the general election.
Roberts is locked in a tough contest with former Youth Commissioner Jordan Harris for the 186th Legislative District, who is widely viewed as the favorite, and Timothy Hannah, a long-time community activist.
The race for the 186th is a prime example of the situation city voters face as they head to the polls. Though there is no incumbent in the race, Harris, who was endorsed by The Tribune Sunday, has the backing of the Democratic establishment — including city Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who held the 186th seat until January, and state Sen. Anthony Williams. Roberts has run for state representative and City Council before.
In addition, voters in the district will be asked to choose someone to fill the remainder of Johnson’s term in the state House. The Democrat there is Harold James, who held the seat for decades before retiring in 2008, paving the way for Johnson’s win.
The race in the 186th is just one of several hotly contested races across the city. In other races to watch include the 188th District, which pits incumbent state Rep. James Roebuck against newcomer Fatimah Muhammad. The campaign has taken on a negative tone with a political action committee attacking Roebuck, who has the support of the teachers’ union, for his stance on public education. Muhammad told The Tribune the attack had nothing to do with her campaign, adding that she supports vouchers in principle, but does not endorse the proposal now in the House.
In the 197th District, Jewel Williams, daughter of former state Rep., now Sheriff Jewell Williams is seeking her father’s seat in Harrisburg. She faces several contenders in the race: J. Miranda, Kenneth Walker and Jamil Ali. Opponents have accused to Williams of fostering confusion among voters in an effort to get them to vote for her thinking they are voting for her father. Voters here will also be asked to pick someone to fill the remainder of Jewell Williams’ seat. The choice there is between ward leader Gary Williams or perennial candidate T. Milton Street, brother of former Mayor John Street, who once served in the state House and has since served time for tax evasion.
Eighteen-year incumbent state Rep. Rosita Youngblood faces two challengers this primary season: Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley. The development at Chelten Plaza, which sparked a neighborhood controversy, had divided constituents. Youngblood opposed the project after the developer altered plans to build at Super Fresh there. Boyd backed the change, which brought a Sav-A-Lot to the plaza along with a dollar store, saying they were more in line with what the district needed.
Despite the hype, and the new voter ID law, voter turnout is expected to be low — perhaps lower than usual because of voter confusion about the state’s new voter ID law.
Voter turnout in primary elections in non-presidential years is typically low.
Singer said she’s not sure what this year’s turnout will look like.
“I have been surprised at how much anger there is over the voter ID law,” she said, adding that she hoped that anger would translate in votes. “The best way to beat this is for Philadelphians to come out and vote.”
Most expect the confusion that surrounds the new law and traditional voter apathy to reduce turn out.
“Voting here and around the country is embarrassingly low,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, an elections watchdog group.
Both declined to give estimates.
There were slightly more than 1 million registered voters in the 2011 primary — 797,762 Democrats and 127,165 Republicans with 90,000 others. But, only 17.6 percent of the registered voters turned out in the 2011 primary.
Roberts was well aware of the statistics and told his volunteers the contest is likely to be close — urging them to get their friends and neighbors to vote.
“This might come down to five or 10 votes,” he said.
Stirring voters’ passions can be difficult.
Roberts portrays himself as a community crusader battling the city’s political machine.
“Some people just go along with the agenda,” he said, getting his volunteers fired up.
But, he also made sure they knew he was a Democrat, telling the group that the Republicans who control Harrisburg have a “radical right agenda.”
He used education as an example — honing in on vouchers — a hot button issue in this election cycle, in part because the political action committee Students First has poured tens of thousands of dollars into several races in south, southwest and west Philadelphia.
“If they destroy our public schools, where are our kids going to go?” asked Roberts.
In one corner, Kevin Parks had been listening as he inserted flyers into packets that would go to every polling place volunteer in the district.
As Roberts talked, Parks had difficulty containing himself.
“The private schools can turn out the kids,” he said loudly, shaking his head.
With every seat in the state House up for grabs and voter turnout expected to be low, candidates rely on grassroots enthusiasm.
“You are going to make it happen,” Roberts told his people.
He hopes to have between 160 and 200 volunteers at polling places across the district. Some of those will be the volunteers that stand outside the polling places. Some will be poll watchers, who must be certified to stand inside the polling place.
City officials will be watching closely this year.
“We understand that there may be some confusion this year with the new voter ID law that is now in place,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “We want to make sure that no one is discouraged about going to the polls … because of that confusion.”
He promised that his office would “go after any criminal activity and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
Administration officials are making their rounds to discuss the possible sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works as the city prepares to test the market with an eye to a possible sale.
“We have to not only educate [the public] but get them to a comfort level that this is what we need to do,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for streets and utilities.
A sale, which would have to be approved by City Council, would have to generate between $1.5 and $1.85 billion to provide any financial benefit for the city. The vast majority of proceeds would be used to cover PGW’s liabilities — approximately $1 billion in debt, and about $500 million in other liabilities.
Cutler, Rebecca Rhynhart, city budget director and George Bilicic, vice chairman of investment banking from Lazard Freres, a New York investment bank, are meeting with members of the media and other groups to explain the benefits and drawbacks of a potential deal.
“There are a variety of reasons that have brought us to this point,” Cutler said. “One, interest rates are low, so it’s a really good time to buy. The company has done a great job in securing itself … management has really stabilized the firm. The gas industry itself has a very ample supply, so rates and the cost of purchasing product is low. I think all of those pieces coming together have required us to take the next step.”
For customers, the main benefit is the possibility of fewer rate increases.
“Our analysis shows that, because of the benefits of combining PGW with another utility operation, you would be able to reduce the overall operating costs,” Bilicic said. “That eases pressures on rates.”
In addition, he added, even under new ownership the company would continue to be regulated by the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission, offering the same level of consumer protections now in place.
“The consumer, in this case, is relatively protected,” he said.
Among the conditions the city would impose on a sale: a rate freeze until 2016, any purchaser would be required to honor all existing employee contracts — which run until May 2015; that any buyer would guarantee that the company would maintain a headquarters in Philadelphia for at least three years and retain a certain number of employees at that location.
The mayor, earlier this week, declined to say what the minimum numbers set by the city might be.
“We’re not going to negotiate in public,” he said.
PGW employs 1,654 people — 1,138 of those positions are union jobs.
Any deal would include a no layoff provision for any employee hired before May 15, 1998 and another 150 hired after that date. That represents about two-thirds of the company’s union employees.
Cutler said the administration expected resistance from the union, Utility Workers Union of America, Local 686.
Union officials did not return repeated phone calls from the Tribune seeking comment.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, chair of the transportation and public utilities committee, has already called for hearings.
“I think it’s important that we look at all of the angles as we look to generate revenue for the city. We must review all of the options. But my first priority is to protect the consumer and public employees who work for PGW,” Johnson told the Tribune on Wednesday, adding: “A large portion of PGW’s customers are low-income.”
“It’s imperative that we protect them if we are to look at selling such a vital institution.”
On Thursday he called for hearings on the matter.
The sale could produce several benefits for the city, Rhynhart said.
It would remove what has often been a liability for the city’s general fund. In 2000, the city had to loan PGW $45 million, which it only recently repaid. In addition, the city has received only one scheduled annual payment of $18 million that it was supposed to be getting since 2004. That payment came last year, and is expected again this year due to an improvement in PGW’s finances.
In addition to removing financial obligations, the sale would generate revenue through the Pennsylvania Utility Realty Tax. Since the gas company is city owned, its properties are tax-exempt. That would change after a sale.
Rhynhart said that trade-off could prove a benefit to the city.
“There are several taxes we would get, the BPT tax [business privilege tax], the use and occupancy tax, which would go to the school district,” she said, adding that the city had not yet been able to determine how much those taxes would generate. Largely because PGW has never paid real estate tax, so it’s difficult to estimate how much the PURTA might generate. “In order to a full picture of the taxes, we would get we need to have a full evaluation done.”
In addition, after the city covered PGW’s liabilities, it could have several hundred million left over for the general fund. That could be used for any number of things. Cutler rattled off several options.
“Are we going to hundred percent fund the pension fund? Are we going to pay down debt? Are we going to say 2 percent of this is going to social services?” she asked. “We will need to craft that.”
A sale could take as long as two years to complete: a year to wrap up the deal and another year to secure approval from the Public Utilities Commission.
Founded in 1836, PGW is the largest and one of only four municipally-owned gas companies among the 30 largest cities in the United States. It serves more than 514,000 customers.
Its first meeting resulted in Philadelphia City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones both supporting its platform.
Now, POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild — hopes to make further inroads with its second “Economic Justice Forum” to be held Tuesday, June 12 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The topic du jour is the planned $6-billion expansion of the Philadelphia International Airport, a project that is slated to create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs. The expansion could take 15 years to complete.
POWER’s officials want to make sure that an equal portion of the jobs created by the project go to qualified minority workers.
Longtime Arch Street United Methodist Church Reverend Robin Hynicka said he has seen the damages wrought by economic inequality, and has prayed that a project like this would come along and revitalize the economy — and certainly the qualified workers among his flock.
“For over 30 years, I have prayed with unemployed and underemployed folks who live in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. While some of my prayers were answered and individuals found work, far too many others in the neighborhood never did. I am still praying but the prayer is bigger, bolder and in unison with clergy and laity from over 36 congregations,” Hynicka said. “Our collaborative prayer includes the vision for 10,000 new jobs for unemployed Philadelphians, the creation of training programs and support systems that provide preparation for these jobs and the passing of legislation that creates a practical pathway to these jobs.
“In particular, this prayer includes support for City Council to enact legislation that will provide opportunity for Philadelphia residents to work at the temporary and permanent jobs that will be created by the Philadelphia International Airport Expansion Project,” he added.
This is the second of four such meetings POWER has established at community locations throughout the city. Council members Johnson and Jones attended the last meeting, and Council members Bill Green, David Oh and Mark Squilla have confirmed their attendance for Tuesday’s meeting, POWER officials said.
The timing is crucial. Earlier this month, the city took a huge step forward in the planning of the expansion, hiring three firms to manage the logistics of the project. Minority firms Delon Hampton & Associates and CMTS Inc. will join CH2M Hill, the lead planning company for the expansion.
The project has met some opposition, particularly from residents of Tinicum Township, several of whom may be dislocated by the expansion. US Airways — one the airport’s biggest users — has also filed a federal lawsuit to block the expansion.
Four of 40 new affordable homes in Point Breeze were open to the public last weekend in an open house sponsored by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, which hopes to revitalize an area hit hard by foreclosures.
“These homes represent an opportunity for families of average means to buy a house in a revitalizing neighborhood,” said Ed Covington, executive director of the redevelopment authority.
Construction of the houses, scattered throughout the neighborhood in five developments, was funded through a portion of $43.9 million in federal stimulus money earmarked for neighborhood development. The four model homes were in the 2000 block of Federal Street, the 1300 block of South 18th Street, the 1200 block of South 17th Street and the 1200 block of South 27th Street.
“This is a great example of how the city has used stimulus funds to strategically invest in and strengthen targeted neighborhoods like Point Breeze,” said Covington.
Most of the homes in the five developments will be available to families earning between $45,000 and $50,000 a year. Buyers do not have to be first-time home buyers.
Each property is part of the city’s 10-year tax abatement program, is Energy Star certified with energy efficient windows, doors and appliances. They range in size from two to four bedrooms, most with basements and roof decks.
“These homes will help maintain the affordability of the neighborhood,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the district. “I was pleased that the city targeted the homes first to residents of Point Breeze.”
Although the problems of previously incarcerated individuals are issues that cross all ethnicities and ages and affect every neighborhood in the country to some degree, in Philadelphia these problems deeply affect the African-American community to a greater degree.
Law enforcement officials across the city will readily confirm that most of the violent crime in Philadelphia is caused by young Black males with a prison record. Likewise, so are the majority of the victims, and finding ways to successfully deter this criminally active minority is a major time consuming enterprise.
In Philadelphia, the city supports an organization called Reintegration Services for Ex-offenders, or R.I.S.E., which has been in place for several years. But in an era of a weak job market and where the recidivism rate approaches 50 percent, increasing services and options for ex-offenders is always a good thing.
On Oct. 27, 2012, the Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church will be hosting a symposium for individuals returning to the community from prison. Seeking to initiate solutions from different angles, Pastor Mike Lovett, Dr. Kay Johnson and Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said the problems of ex-offenders are pervasive and affect the quality of life in every community in Philadelphia.
“Especially in Point Breeze,” Lovett said. “The Point Breeze community has a very high percentage of people coming out of prison - and in terms of services for these individuals, not a lot is happening. We think the Black churches could be, and should be, doing a lot more to help. This is a multi-cultural, non-denominational symposium. Race and religious or non-religious background are not relevant.”
Dr. Kay Johnson, who along with her husband Dr. Michael Johnson will be spearheading some of the workshops and discussions during the symposium, said helping ex-offenders become productive members of the community should be one of the priorities of the Black churches. Listed among the various workshops will be information on how to conduct gun buy-backs, women’s and youth ministries and other workshops and discussions.
“We really want to acquaint the churches about the literally tens of thousands of people coming out of prison and the problems they have related to returning to the communities,” Johnson said. “They need addiction services, their families need assistance, and the majority of them need housing and jobs. R.I.S.E. is doing its job, but we’re in a climate of shrinking state and city budgets. The churches can help in this.”
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said his office wants to help make the symposium a success and has thrown his support behind the effort.
“I’m a longtime member of Tasker Street Missionary and I want this event to be a success,” Johnson said. “Helping recently incarcerated people is a ministry that starts while these individuals are still in prison. We have to help them get into the right state of mind, and this church was one of those that stepped up. This is an issue that affects all of us – a bullet doesn’t discriminate.”
According to the latest statistics provided by the federal government, 95 percent of the people currently in prison will be released at some point. When they are, unless there are consistent, intense and thorough programs and services in place ready to assist them, they are going to recidivate, said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. Cole spoke at length during the Southeastern Regional Reentry Conference on Tuesday of this week.
“Today, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in 100 American adults – are behind bars in the United States. At some point, 95 percent of these prisoners will be released,” Cole said. “This translates into some 700,000 people coming out of our state and federal prisons every year. Two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be re-arrested within three years, and half will return to prison. Among released federal prisoners, 40 percent are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within 3 years. Aside from the very serious implications for public safety, recidivism also impacts budgets at the federal, state, and local levels. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than $74 billion is spent on federal, state, and local corrections annually. In fact, it is one of the most expensive items in any state budget. And with more than $6.5 billion spent on the Bureau of Prisons each year -- it takes up a substantial portion of the Department of Justice budget as well. The nation faces significant challenges in ensuring the safe and successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into the communities. The issues are complex and the stakes are high. But in order to effectively respond to these challenges, we must work together and engage stakeholders at every level in these joint efforts to find lasting solutions.”
According to statistics provided by the National Reentry Resource Center, nine million people are released from federal, state and local prisons every year and all will need some kind of assistance; especially in the form of jobs and housing.
“This Administration and this Department of Justice have made effective reentry a priority. We are working on all fronts – and across many agencies – to promote viable reentry programs, explore innovative practices, support research, and expand partnerships,” Cole said. The Attorney General chairs a Federal Interagency Reentry Council composed of 20 federal agencies – bringing together cabinet officials and other leaders to tackle some of the most pressing reentry challenges. The purpose of the Council is to leverage federal reentry resources and to improve community safety, help returning inmates to become productive citizens, and lower the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. In the year-and-a-half of its existence, the Council has had tremendous success in lowering barriers to successful reentry.”
Cole said the Justice Department has helped publicize resources that can aid individual jurisdictions in their reentry efforts. He said that the Obama Administration is committed to creating new strategies and forging critical partnerships that can help make the transition from corrections facilities to communities easier and safer. These efforts are aimed at giving jurisdictions the tools they need to help returning prisoners become productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens while discouraging behavior that may land them back in jail or prison.
Lovett said that although a great many churches in Philadelphia already have prison ministries he thinks they need to unite more and concentrate their efforts in order to be more effective. “We tend to narrow our outreach to the individual pews and we need to broaden our efforts. That’s one of the reasons why I said this is non-denominational and multi-cultural. This isn’t about a person’s individual faith but about where they live.”
The Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church is located at 2010 Tasker Street Philadelphia, PA For more information about the symposium call (215) 389-8282.
Officials urge cooperation between neighbors, police
“Cowards” and “thugs” were some of the words used during a press conference at the 17th Police District held by state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson in response to the shootings in South Philadelphia.
Johnson, noted for his work in the South and Southwest Philadelphia, expressed his outrage at those who threaten the lives of other citizens without regard for children, which is evidenced by the fact that two children were shot in the mayhem.
Joined by NAACP’s Jerry Mondesire, state Sen. Anthony Williams, and 17th Police District Capt. Anthony Washington along with a host of community stakeholders, Johnson described the conference as a “community plan of action.”
“This is a call to action,” said Johnson “Over the last month in South Philadelphia, we have had a spike in the incidence of gun violence. Most notably, a six-year-old and a two-year-old was shot, a senior citizen was shot, a 10-year-old was shot and, most recently and we’ve had two homicides.”
Johnson, a native of South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze section, informed the gathering press conference was held not only because of his position as an elected official but as a member of the community.
“We have come to promote a united front, to let those in the community know that enough is enough,” said Johnson, who went on to recount some of the previous marches and vigils, which he organized in the Grays Ferry section of South Philly.
“All of that work that we have done would have been in vain if we let these cowardly heartless thugs shoot up our neighborhoods rather it is in Point Breeze or Grays Ferry,” exclaimed Johnson.
Johnson revealed what he calls his “community action plan” which included working closely with community stakeholders, increasing police presence in South Philadelphia.
“We want to make sure that we also support the 17th police district and the first police district as they enforce the curfew hours, particularly in the hot spots in Grays Ferry and Point Breeze and put pressure on those individuals who do not have the best interest of our community at heart,” said Johnson.
Other measures will also include working closely with the Board of Probation and Parole.
“More importantly, we need the community to come forward with information. We need the community to step up to the plate, if you see something, say something,” said Johnson, promising to assist and support those who do so.
Washington stated that, although the perpetrators of the recent shootings have not yet been identified and apprehended, several individuals were being closely watched.
“Unfortunately, we do have individuals among us, numerous individuals who want to do nothing but harm others,” said Washington, explaining that patrols will be ramped up.
Washington believes that some of the individuals suspected of causing some of the violence in South Philadelphia were those who were previously incarcerated and returned to the neighborhood with the intent of continuing some of the criminal behavior, which led to their arrests in the first place.
Despite the recent rash of violent shootings, Washington said the 17th Police District has had a decrease in violent crime over the past several years.
“I don’t want people to come here today and have the opinion that this is just a complete war zone. That is not what we have going on here,” said Washington.
“We are here to condemn the immorality and any inhuman behavior regardless of the color of the perpetrators,” exclaimed J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the NAACP Philadelphia branch. “Today, this day, the NAACP is here to condemn in the harshest language possible the conspiracy of silence that has developed after the bloodshed which left a two-year-old child with a bullet in her belly.”
Mondesire pulled no punches during his address to those gathered exclaiming that “a community that sits silent after its children are slaughtered does not deserve to be called civilized.”
While speakers referred to the perpetrators of such shootings as occurred in South Phila as cowards, Mondesire noted that there are other cowards who are not often mentioned during such conversations.
“The cowards who won’t cooperate with law enforcement are not deserving of respect or consideration. There is no white conspiracy here, there is a Black conspiracy by cowards who will protect other cowards who will shoot any one of us here irrespective of their color,” said Mondesire, who urged members of the community who might have information about the perpetrators to step forward.
The Philadelphia Crime Commission has collected money for rewards for information leading to the apprehension of those responsible in these crimes and information can be given anonymously. Also, the NAACP is offering $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for shooting of the two-year-old child.
“We are not playing and we are not afraid to call it like we see it. Somebody Black shot that child, somebody Black knows who shot this child, somebody Black better come forward!” said Mondesire, sparking applause from the audience as he left the podium.
A vigil was also held at 6:30 p.m., organized by Jordan A. Harris of the Philadelphia Youth Commission. Rally organizers held a prayer vigil and rally against the violence on the streets by marching to areas where the shootings occurred.
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.
Hitting the pavement, Mayor Michael Nutter and newly elected Councilman Kenyatta Johnson took a walking tour of the Point Breeze neighborhood this week, launching a larger tour as Nutter seeks to take the entire city’s pulse as he enters his second term.
“I like to see what’s going on myself,” said the mayor, who with Johnson, who now represents the 2nd Councilmanic District, and several ranking police officers took a walking tour along 21st Street near Mifflin Street on Wednesday morning. “You’d be surprised what you can learn if you keep your mouth shut and listen.”
The section of Point Breeze — part of what is sometimes known as “the box” — is notorious for crime and drug activity. Philadelphia Weekly named it one of the top ten drug areas in the city in 2007.
As he opens his second term, the mayor is visiting neighborhoods across the city to highlight key priorities — crime reduction, education and poverty.
“We have to drive our crime rates down and education rates up,” he said.
Point Breeze was chosen because it is one of the neighborhoods selected to take part in the Philly Rising Collaborative, a plan that aims to revitalize neighborhoods using resident input and participation to drive change.
“The community can only move forward … if the people participate,” Johnson said.
After a routine start, and a sit-down with several community leaders for a brief question and answer session, Nutter and Johnson took a walking tour through the neighborhood to inspect some of the alleys cleared out by Philly Rising, in one of its neighborhood improvement initiatives.
On his first of several planned neighborhood tours, Nutter got a true taste of the streets.
At a couple of houses, knots of curious residents stood on their porches, eyes following the entourage as it moved north on 21st Street. One man got into a brief confrontation with police officers after voicing concerns that the group had “pushed up on him.” Nutter kept moving. The man was quickly quieted down by police brass and ambled south on 21st Street, where he lounged at the northwest corner of McKean smoking a cigarette and talking to buddies — who kept a watchful eye on the group of officials.
Just a few steps more and Nutter ran into Michelle Burton, whose son — Stephon, 24 — was murdered Nov. 14 at 21st and Mifflin.
“Why don’t they have his murderers arrested?” she asked, her voice rising as she gave the mayor and Johnson her version of events.
According to Burton, her son was gunned down at about 7:30 p.m. by people everyone in the neighborhood knew, and his murderers were still roaming the streets. One, she said, was still attending school and going about his daily routine as if nothing had happened.
“They’re still running the streets,” Burton said, characterizing the men she suspected as ‘wannabe thugs.’ “I’m trying to get them off the streets.”
The two men listened patiently as the distraught woman talked — then Nutter quietly asked her a few questions. Were people helping police?
“People is afraid to talk,” answered Burton.
She didn’t seem convinced that it would help anyway.
“Five people died in this block, and we saw no police cars,” she said.
As he pressed on, Nutter urged Burton to talk to one of the officers accompanying him.
“One murder is too many,” he said, adding that crime in the Point Breeze section had fallen in every category over the last year. He admitted that statistics were little comfort.
“There is the numbers, and then there is how you feel,” he said.
Some residents do feel better.
“From summer to now, I see a change in the area,” said Adell Mack, a long-time resident.
The alley cleanup done by Philly Rising may seem like a small thing, she said, but it changes the feel of the neighborhood. The alleys were often a conduit for crime, providing cover for thieves and drug dealers.
In addition, Philly Rising has given residents a place to turn when they need help.
“We just needed someone to call,” she said, adding that in the past, calls to city officials were ignored. “They fell on deaf ears.”
Now, she hopes the momentum of change will help transform the character of the entire neighborhood.
“We’re looking to do more,” Mack said.