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August 20, 2014, 10:21 pm

Activists bemoan apathy over murder rate

Victim count stands at 310 for the year


Philadelphia passed a tragic threshold over the past weekend, when the number of homicides in the city climbed to 310, and most of the victims were African Americans.

Yet, despite the fact that one of the victims was a five-year old boy, despite the fact that over the years several of the murder victims were innocent bystanders — some advocates lament that there seems to be no collective outrage from the African-American community over the loss of so many lives, many of whom were in their teens and early twenties.

Statistics show and court documents confirm that almost all of the murderers have a history of arrests and incarcerations, as do many of the victims. Statistics also bear out the fact that with very few exceptions, the shooters are using illegally obtained firearms. There is also evidence indicating a strong connection between the high rate of public school dropouts and crime. Yet again, beyond the candlelight vigils held by grieving family members, there is a deafening silence in the Black community over the violence and the social factors driving it, say social activists.

Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, president of Black Men at Penn, Inc. said there is no real outrage because there has been decades of moral erosion, a decline in the Black family, and a lack of community commitment.

“People see or hear about the violence and shake their heads and say ‘Well, there they go again.’” Lassiter said. “Why is there no real outrage about it? We’ve lost our moral compass and we’ve become desensitized to the point where we’ve become immobilized. We need a resurgence of real leadership because I think many of our leaders are frustrated by their inability to push forward any policies that would have a significant impact. We’re looking at decades and decades of moral decline, white supremacy, under-employment and unemployment and the demise of the [Black] family. Many of our leaders are simply running out of answers.”

Recently, with the re-election of Barack Obama as president, Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, sent a letter to the White House calling for federal action on some of those ills facing the Black community — and crime and violence was on that list. Discussion of the rising rate of crime and violence in the Black community was absent from both parties during the election campaigns.

“The scourge of gun violence cries out for a comprehensive new approach to community safety and crime reduction,” said Morial, in his letter to President Obama. “This requires stronger enforcement of existing gun laws, re-enactment of the assault weapons ban, and a thoughtful examination of criminal justice system disparities which have created an exploding prison population at great expense to the taxpayers at both the state and federal level.”

Over the last few days there has been a spike of deadly violence in the city. On December 4, an argument and a fistfight at the Police Athletic League Center at 58th and Master Streets turned into a fatal shooting outside the facility. A basketball game was about to commence inside the center when two men, believed to be in their late teens to early 20s, became involved in a verbal disagreement that quickly escalated into a physical confrontation. Police broke up the fight and escorted the young men from the building. Once outside, gunfire erupted, a 19-year old was shot multiple times and police quickly arrested his killer. The victim was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

A 4-year-old boy was shot and critically wounded Monday when a still unidentified gunman fired into the minivan being driven by the victim’s father. According to investigators, the father was leaving their home at the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Wilson Park project in the 2700 block of Daly Terrace. At around 7:20 p.m. the unidentified gunman started shooting into the vehicle, striking the 30-year old father and his son. A 9-year old girl was also in the van, but she was unharmed. The father was struck in the back and suffered a graze wound to the head and his son was shot in the stomach.

As of Tribune press time the father is listed in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His son is listed in critical but stable condition at Children’s Hospital. So far, no arrests have been made and investigators believe the shooting was in retaliation to an earlier shooting this month.

On Friday, Nov. 23, a 25-year old woman was caught in the crossfire of a post-Thanksgiving gun battle near the 2000 block of Dennie Street. Johnika Tiggett was struck in the head by a stray bullet following a bar fight that escalated to deadly violence. Tiggett had left her family’s home around 1:30 a.m. when four young Black males began shooting at each other outside Buffy’s, a local bar. Tiggett was rushed to Temple University Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Arrested in the case are Byron McDonald, 19, from the 3100 block of North 25th Street, Anthony Palmer, 33, from the 5100 block of Reno Street, Roland Thompson, 36, from the 2400 block of West Toronto Street and Rashon Wiggins, 24, from the 1800 block of West Juniata Street. All have been charged with murder, illegal weapons offenses and related charges. Another suspect, Terrell Antwon, 23, from the 4400 block of North Cleveland Street remains at large and court documents show Antwon has a lengthy history of criminal behavior.

“These [same] guys get locked up over and over and over again,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey in an earlier interview. “And they get released — as if they’re going to be any different once on the street. At some point in time we’ve got to recognize that some people don’t need to be among us and they need to be locked up. We need to put them in jail and keep them in jail, period.”

Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, said he thinks there is no real outcry because people simply don’t know what they can do. He also said he wonders if the political will exists to really institute policies that would have an impact.

“Part of the problem is that no one is really talking about this. You see some limited coverage on one or two of the television stations, and there’s running coverage in one of the local newspapers. But the numbers of homicides are going up, along with the number of non-fatal shootings, and there’s no discussion about this on the community level. I think it’s because people don’t really know how to respond. And more women are being shot. Now events like marches and protests do help raise the consciousness about this problem, but they don’t stop the killing and that might be fine with some people — but it should not be acceptable to us. What I would like to see is a local public works project — and this should be done on the national level. When someone gets out of prison, yes, there needs to be programs like R.I.S.E. because these ex-offenders need skills training and mentoring for other issues. But when the training and mentoring is finished, if there’s no job that pays a living wage at the end, all the training is useless. Does the political will exist to make this happen? That’s the real question, isn’t it?”