Disco legend Donna Summer died Thursday morning May 17 in Naples, Fla., at age 63 after a battle with cancer, said her publicist Brian Edwards. Her family released a statement saying they “are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.” The five-time Grammy-winning singer had numerous hits in both the 1970s and 1980s, including “Last Dance,” “She Works Hard for the Money” and “Bad Girls.”
“The City of Philadelphia and the music world are deeply saddened by the passing of an incredibly talented musical artist, Donna Summer,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who was once known as club DJ “Mix Master Mike.” “For people in my generation and many others, she was one of the greatest vocalists of the second half of the 20th century. An innovator of note, she had a wide range of musical capabilities. She was one of the leaders of the disco wave in America and Europe, and she broke new musical ground with songs like ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ ‘Bad Girls,’ ‘MacArthur Park Suite’ and ‘Hot Stuff.’”
Summer was the first artist to have three double albums reach No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart: “Live and More,” “Bad Girls,” “On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II.” She became a cultural icon, not only as one of the defining voices of the era, but also as an influence on future pop divas from Madonna to Beyoncé.
Nutter recalled playing “the Queen of Disco” during her heyday while deejaying at the Impulse Disco at Broad Street and Germantown Avenue. “For a young guy working in a night club at the high point of disco, and for everyone who came together in those days of joyful music and dance, she represented a singular musical style and a towering artistry. We all carry fond memories of Donna Summer. Whether performing alone or in duets with talents like Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer was one of the very best. I loved her music, her beautiful voice, and her grand musical talent.”
Summer reportedly did not embrace the “Disco Queen” title and later became a born-again Christian, but many remembered her best for her early years, starting with the sinful “Love to Love You Baby.” Released in 1975, a breakthrough hit for Summer and for disco, it was a legend of studio ecstasy and the genre’s ultimate sexual anthem. She simulated climax so many times that the BBC kept count: 23, in 17 minutes.
“All other erotic tunes, like ‘Jungle Fever’ and Pillow Talk,’ were mere foreplay to ‘Love To Love You, Baby.’ In the first place, it took up the whole album side and it set the scene for the 12-inch single,” noted author and cultural critic Richard Torres.
What started as a scandal became a classic. The song was later sampled by LL Cool J, Timbaland, and Beyoncé, who interpolated the hit for her jam “Naughty Girl.” It was also Summer’s U.S. chart debut and the first of her 19 No. 1 dance hits between 1975 and 2008 — second only to Madonna.
“The funny thing about that track is that it really does warrant that length,” explained Torres. “There is no filler on that track. It’s hypnotic. ‘Love To Love You, Baby’ is the American ‘Ravel’s Bolero’ — it’s the beginning and middle, and,” Torres reflects with a chuckle, “it gave a man something to shoot for.”
Musically, Summer began to change in 1979 with “Hot Stuff,” which had a tough, rock ‘n’ roll beat. Her diverse sound helped her earn Grammy Awards in the dance, rock, R&B and inspirational categories.
“She’s the most underrated great singer of the last 35 years,” noted Torres. “People would have thought of her as a — and this is pun intended — one-trick-pony based on the orgasmic ‘Love to Love You, Baby.’ But even in that song she showed tremendous range. What people forget is that she also received a lot of scorn, because there was this racist movement to anti-disco, and because she was the ‘Queen of Disco,’ her vocal and artistic contributions were diminished in the mainstream press. This is a woman, who by the way, more than held her own in a duet with Barbara Streisand on ‘Enough Is Enough/No More Tears.’ What she had was this unfailing rhythmic ability — and disco was all about could you ride the rhythm — she wasn’t a shouter, a la Lolita Holloway, but she was a chanteuse. She created a mood with every song.”
Summer released her last album, “Crayons,” in 2008. It was her first full studio album in 17 years. She also performed on “American Idol” that year with its top female contestants. Summer is survived by her husband, Bruce Sudano, and three daughters, Brooklyn, Mimi and Amanda.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
With all that’s been going on in our fair city lately, you may have forgotten that there’s a major election less than six weeks away. I think this time around the incumbents prefer it that way.
The School District of Philadelphia, and the School Reform Commission that runs it, have squandered whatever public goodwill they still had. School superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman got her nearly million-dollar payout, and instead of going away quietly, has lobbed incendiary grenades at everyone she feels is responsible for her ouster.
Most people would be lounging in a beach chair, sipping on some fruity rum drink with a tiny umbrella in it and toasting their good fortune, but not Ackerman.
She has implicated SRC chair Bob Archie, Mayor Michael Nutter and state Rep. Dwight Evans, among others, as major players in this shameful fiasco that just won’t go away. If she’s telling the truth, those three guys are guilty of serious ethical breaches and violations of the public trust, if not outright crimes.
Archie, partner at Duane Morris, one of the city’s top law firms, has been a power broker in this town for many, many years. While the general public may have just learned of him since his appointment to the SRC, the movers and shakers have long known Archie, and his reputation for getting deals done.
The problem is, the School District is not a private law firm, and deals made on their behalf are public deals using public monies, secret agendas and closed door meetings have no place in a public entity, even though we all know that in Philly, that’s generally how things work.
But Archie turned in his resignation from the SRC early this week, leaving the School District’s governing body with just two members. (SRC member Johnny Irizarry, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, quit the same day as Archie.) Mayor Nutter quickly appointed old friend and former employee Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University, to fill one of the empty slots, but the damage is done, and the District is almost completely rudderless, at least for now.
I don’t know how he’s managed to do it, but so far Nutter seems untouched by this whole stinking mess. After all, the mayor appoints two SRC members, and he certainly played a large role in Ackerman’s departure — the hideous details of which have yet to come to light.
Speaking of which, isn’t this the same mayor who campaigned four years ago on clean government and an end to municipal corruption? Isn’t this the guy who promised us transparency, integrity and accountability in City Hall? Now he’s lobbying local rich folks for Ackerman’s buyout money and keeping it hush-hush, and if Ackerman’s accusations are to be believed, he’s turning a blind eye to corruption by sitting on a report which would blow the lid off the Martin Luther King charter school scandal, and was not averse to holding 5-year-olds ransom by threatening the end of all-day kindergarten simply to advance his political agenda.
Now, it seems to me that a man — especially an incumbent mayor up for re-election in a few short weeks — would vigorously, publicly and immediately defend himself against such vile accusations.
His opponent in November is Democrat-turned-Republican Karen Brown, who has been making some noise herself lately by demanding a number of debates with Nutter before Election Day. Nutter’s people have agreed to only one public forum, which in all honesty makes more sense for them. You don’t give an unknown opponent the opportunity to compete on your level if you’re the incumbent — especially when you’re favored to win by a landslide.
But it does leave a cloud hanging over the election in many ways.
What if the GOP had put up a serious, well-developed candidate in this race? Would Nutter’s confidence level be as high, especially considering the huge pile of hypocrisy and bad faith that has shown up on his doorstep lately?
Nutter will certainly win, and probably by the predicted margin, but when he does his first phone call of thanks should be placed to Vito Canuso and Mike Meehan, the city’s GOP leadership.
By randomly plucking Brown from obscurity rather than grooming, preparing and financing a genuine alternative candidate, Canuso and Meehan have virtually assured Nutter’s re-election at a time when a little healthy competition could have at least raised the level of discourse.
I have the uneasy feeling that we’re about to get exactly what we deserve.
At least it wasn’t ‘The Black man did it!’
Last week’s mini-manhunt for suspects who shot a Bucks County policeman ended surprisingly with authorities arresting Chalfont cop Jon Cousin on charges of lying.
Cousin claimed an assailant shot him during Cousin’s early AM investigation of a suspiciously parked car with that assailant’s bullet lodging in Cousin’s bullet proof vest.
Investigators soon discovered that physical evidence and Cousin’s claims didn’t add up. Cousin shot his bullet proof vest later falsely asserting that an assailant shot him.
It’s a good thing that Cousin and/or news media accounts didn’t color that phantom assailant as Black thus setting off a typical-&-potentially dangerous dragnet targeting Black men.
However, it’s a bad thing that mega-money music mogul Jay-Z and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter couldn’t say a ‘Black man did it’ — as in Blacks (men and women) did a fair share of the work in high-paying jobs related to Jay-Z’s “Made In America” concert on the Parkway this past weekend.
The seeming “black-out” of Black and other non-white workers in stage erection and other high-paying positions for that paid Parkway music fest didn’t go unnoticed, particularly by those who monitor the seeming perpetual exclusion of Black workers and businesses from economic opportunities across Philly especially projects receiving contributions from City Hall.
Last week, Mayor Nutter — once known as “Mixmaster Mike” for his long-ago gig DJ-ing at a night club — was a tad tight-lipped when the news media inquired about the public purse investment for that Parkway party sponsored by Budweiser, the resource-rich beer corporation.
Nutter, instead of revealing how much money City Hall kicked into the concert operations kiddy, just referenced beneficial intangibles like “goodwill” for the city and obvious tangibles like bumps for local businesses from concert goers spending in restaurants, bars and hotels.
Hum, what’s wrong with the sound of Nutter’s silence?
One of the richest men in the music business (Jay-Z’s worth an estimated $450 million) and the mayor of one of America’s largest cities didn’t and/or couldn’t use their combined clout to counter the structural discrimination that excludes Black workers and Black businesses displaced from participating in a Philly economic pie is arguably a Made-in-America shame.
Philly is a city with massive unemployment among non-whites.
And Philly leads all of America’s big cities with a 37 percent poverty rate — a poverty rate that is connected to economic disconnects from institutionalized racial discrimination.
It speaks mightily that a current music mogul and a former mixmaster didn’t amp things up to ensure that more economic opportunities flowed equitably from that Parkway music fest like water flows from the famous public fountains along the Parkway.
A jobs generating event on the Labor Day Weekend Holiday providing pitifully few high-paying jobs for non-white Philly workers is Made-in-America 4 Sure.
It seems (at least seems to some) that Mayor Nutter is more concerned that homeless people languishing along the Parkway don’t receive food-or-crumbs from outdoor feedings by religious groups than his leveraging all available opportunities (all-the-time) to ensure a few economic trickle-down crumbs feed Black workers and Black businesses living in the city he leads.
Further, this small yet salient example of traditional exclusion from economic inclusion underlines a criticism legendary entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte made in early August.
Belafonte named Jay-Z by name when blasting many contemporary high-profile artists for turning “their backs on social responsibility.”
Belafonte is a person who repeatedly put his career in money making peril to break down barriers that enabled the elevation of later generations. Belafonte could have receded into “bling” but he didn’t.
The fact that Jay-Z rose from a NYC housing project to the pinnacle of success is the stuff of the vaulted American Dream. And yes, Jay-Z places his real name on his Shawn Corey Carter Foundation that helps economically challenged folks further their education.
But framing the evaporating American Dream that does boost some hard-working blacks into entrepreneurial or elected positions are continuing realities of institutional exclusion and structural prejudice — the American Nightmare that America ignores.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently described aspects of that American Nightmare crushing Blacks during his August 28, 1963, seminal “I Have a Dream” speech.
During that speech in D.C., King reminded America that Blacks sadly still remained “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
Before reflectively dismissing King’s remarks 49 years ago as having no relevance in a contemporary America where a Black man presides from the White House consider two examples.
King, in 1963, decried Blacks finding themselves as “an exile” in their own land.
During the devastating 2005 Hurricane Katrina media reports referenced poor Blacks ruthlessly pummeled in flood ravaged New Orleans as “refugees” — exiles not Americans suffering in their own American city.
King, in 1963, criticized the exclusion of Blacks from the “great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
Last week when the Republican National Convention blew into Tampa Bay, Fla., along with Hurricane Isaac the GOP did what is always does: exclude Black-owned businesses from the estimated $153 million arising from that presidential convention’s “vaults of opportunity.”
The presidents of the Tampa Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and the Suncoast African American Chamber of Commerce both criticized Black business exclusion — even vending food to conventioneers — by the political party that proclaims its pro-small business.
The more things change…
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Celebrating the official opening of a 101-unit public housing development in West Philadelphia, federal, state and city officials gathered at Mantua Square in West Philadelphia this week for a ribbon cutting.
The $28.1 million Philadelphia Housing Authority development, which replaced Mantua Hall, a notorious 18-story tower at 35th Street and Fairmount Avenue, was lauded as an example for the city and the nation.
“This is our future right here,” said Jane Vincent, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We consider this a very successful model of what can be done.”
The stark contrast to the crumbling and dangerous Mantua Hall, built in 1960 and demolished in 2008, caught everyone’s attention.
“This is a very, very different place,” said Mayor Michael Nutter as he looked over the tidy square in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
In an attempt to give the development a suburban feel, each of the red brick units is set behind a small lawn on the street side and faces an interior courtyard that houses parking and a small park at the center of the court.
“You feel like you’re in the suburbs and you’re in the heart of Mantua,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents the district.
In addition to one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 725 to 1,441 square feet, the complex includes 10,000 square feet of commercial and community space.
But, it was the green features that caught the attention of the officials gathered for the grand opening.
Each unit has energy saving appliances, the park enhances natural drainage and 793 solar panels.
“You don’t even see solar panels in Chestnut Hill,” joked Sen. Vincent Hughes, who noted that construction of the complex involved 250 jobs and the new, friendlier complex could help renew the neighborhood.
“That’s what this is all about, the revitalization of the neighborhood,” he said.
The official opening of the project comes at a time when Congress is trying to cut funding for public housing. So, in addition to the grand opening, officials announced that October is Housing America Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of public housing.
“This is not a time to disenfranchise our nation’s most vulnerable citizens by reducing funding,” said John Bohm, director of congressional relations with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, who went on to note that 1 in 6 Americans lived in poverty in 2010.
In an interesting side note, Blackwell told the assembled crowd that she hoped to return to her position as housing authority board member.
“I’m hoping one day to get back,” she said in a remark that received more than polite applause.
Blackwell has long been known as a housing advocate and served on the PHA board for nine years.
She stepped down last year in the wake of the Carl Greene scandal, a move that paved the way for a federal take over of the authority. At the time she told reporters that she was stepping down in an effort “be part of the solution.” Her departure, the first, spurred the other board members to follow her lead and eventually all resigned and the agency was placed in the hands of a federal receiver.
Blackwell said as she resigned that she hoped to return when the feds once again returned the agency to local control. Officials at HUD have said they hope to relinquish control by March.
The Urban League of Philadelphia’s Empowerment Week Gala serves to celebrate diversity in the corporate community and award college scholarships.
Fifty scholarships worth more than $100,000 will be awarded during the gala held May 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, 1201 Market St. Ten years ago, ULP initiated its Community Scholarship Program by awarding six college scholarships totaling $12,000 at its annual gala.
“Our theme this year for Empowerment Week is strengthening the Economy through Empowering Partnerships. Nowhere is this theme more evident than in our Community Scholarship Program,” said Patricia A. Coulter, president and chief executive officer of ULP.
“All of our scholarships are donated by private individuals affiliated with our organization, our board members, Affinity Group members and our corporate sponsors. What can do more to empower our community and strengthen our economy than supporting our young people in the quest for higher education?”
ULP board chair Robert Keyes challenged his fellow board members to raise $100,000 this year — and they responded by exceeding that amount and easily surpassing last year’s total of $70,000.
“The scholarships are my passion, and that passion is contagious. I commend all of our board members and friends who contributed these scholarships,” Keyes said. “All of the scholarship winners will attend the gala and will meet the person who donated the scholarship face-to-face. This is a very touching moment.”
During the event, ULP will present PECO with the Vision Award, Union Packaging of Yeadon with the Spirit of Innovation Award and Michael Rashid, president and CEO of Amerihealth Mercy, with the inaugural Power of Diversity Leadership Award.
The ULP’s Vision Award is presented annually to a company that has a strong corporate tradition of diversity. PECO, the Philadelphia region’s supplier of gas and electricity, is known for its support of diversity throughout the organization.
Pearson, president of Union Packaging, will accept the Spirit of Innovation Award, given to an African American-owned company. Union Packaging, based in Yeadon, produces environmentally-friendly packaging for fast-food chains, including McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s.
Rashid has led Amerihealth Mercy from being a local HMO serving Medicaid recipients to becoming a national force, providing health care for the country’s underserved population. His Diamond in the Rough program has enabled hundreds of enthusiastic but under-educated employees to succeed in their jobs and continue their education.
The gala will be hosted by NBC 10 anchor Lori Wilson.
The gala is the culmination of a week of activities including an Empowerment Week kickoff celebration held May 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Hyatt Regency Penn’s Landing, 201 South Columbus Blvd.
The evening features a small business showcase. Curtis Gregory of the city’s Commerce Department will moderate a panel discussion titled, “So You Think You Want to Run Your Own Business.”
Panel members, including caterer David Simms, Yvette Mitchell and this year’s Spirit of Innovation honoree Michael Pearson, will offer insights on building a business from the ground up. The evening will conclude with a social hour.
A jobs summit will be held May 15 at Drexel University, Bossone Research Center, 3140 Market St. where ULP’s partner companies will empower 200 pre-registered job hunters and set them on the road to economic strength. Companies will discuss employment opportunities at the opening session.
Afterwards, participants will attend one or more of the breakout sessions. Sessions will focus on the ULP’s Connect to Work program; the status of the current job market; and professional development, including presentation and networking skills.
A youth employment day will be held May 16 at South Philadelphia High School. This event connects participants in the 2012 Urban Leadership Forum class will connect with 9th- and 12th-graders from South Philly High to engage them on matters pertaining to college preparation and future careers.
A Sweet Scoop of Community Empowerment Day will be held May 17 from noon to 12:30 p.m. at Bassetts Ice Cream Stand, Reading Terminal Market, 45 North 12th St.
Coulter will join Mayor Nutter and other community leaders at the PBJ Celebrity Scoop sponsored by the Philadelphia Business Journal with proceeds donated to Habitat for Humanity. Bassetts, the nation’s oldest ice cream maker, created this limited edition Peanut Butter and Jelly flavor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Philadelphia Business Journal.
ARAMARK is the lead sponsor for the 2012 Empowerment Week lineup.
City Council had little say about reorganization
A lack of input from the community and the city’s powerful politicians may prove fatal to the School District’s new plan to close more than three dozen schools across the city.
“I think the process is flawed,” said Council President Darrell Clarke, noting that, according to school officials, the process of selecting which schools would close has been going for more than a year. The public just learned the details in December. “You should have started having this conversation early on.”
Several members of City Council made similar arguments — chiding the district for its handling of the plan. Council members faulted the plan on several grounds, worrying that the closings didn’t take into account the impact those closings would have on the surrounding neighborhood, or how students would be affected when moved to different neighborhoods, or by the distance some will be required to travel.
“There are a lot of questions about how this was done,” said Jannie Blackwell, head of Council’s education committee. Eight schools in her district are expected to close. “It’s just not tightly enough put together.”
Despite repeated attempts, Superintendent William Hite could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Blackwell said she hopes to hold hearings on the plan next month. The dates are still up in the air but she told the Tribune she wanted to schedule them on the first or second Tuesday of February.
Every council member polled by the Tribune agreed that some schools will have close.
“I certainly understand the School District’s position and financial circumstances,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “We all know that they have been bleeding for many years.”
But, all three said they’d like to see the plan delayed.
Clarke, speaking as a representative of his district, and not council president, said he didn’t oppose “right-sizing.” And, Blackwell acknowledged that some schools will have to close.
No one blamed Hite, who has been in the District’s top position only since September.
School District officials, last month, released a list of 37 schools they expected to close due to falling enrollment. The plan would shift about 17,000 students to different schools. School officials contend it’s necessary for the cash-strapped district to close schools in an effort to save money.
However, the council president is not particularly pleased that Council was not part of the conversation as school officials drew up the proposal.
“They needed to have conversations outside of the School District family,” he said.
Doing so would have helped the District look beyond its present circumstances, said Clarke. As an example, he spoke about plans to close L.P. Hill Elementary and Strawberry Mansion High School because the number of students there has been dropping. However, he said, at least 194 new houses are being built near the school, which could bring a minimum of 200 students to the neighborhood.
“They had no idea about that,” he said. “This decision was made in a vacuum. There was a bean counter behind it.”
His sentiments were echoed by others on Council.
Blackwell said the plan didn’t seem to take into account the reality for many students in Philadelphia.
“Kids in this district can’t just go anywhere. We’ve got enough crime now — we don’t need that kind of crime,” Blackwell said.
“They have not given adequate thought or preparation to those closures,” she said, adding that she hopes to see a one-year moratorium on implementing the plan.
As an example she cited plans to close T.M. Pierce Elementary School and move students to E. Washington Rhodes Middle School.
“Walking from Pierce to Rhodes will be quite a challenge for young people,” she said, noting that the area between the two buildings was troubled by crime and blight.
Though he expected a broader discussion among council members, Clarke said this week, there has been very little group discussion so far.
Nearly a third of the schools expected to close are in North Philadelphia.
Ten of the 37 schools targeted for closing are in Clarke’s Fifth District. Two are in the adjoining portion of the Eighth District, represented by Bass, who has a total of five targeted schools in her district.
Clarke wondered why so many closings were planned in such a small area.
“There is a disproportionate number of schools to be closed in North Philadelphia,” he said.
That could seal the fate of an already troubled area.
“Realistically, the likelihood of a re-use of some of those buildings is extremely limited,” he said. “They close these schools down, and they walk away.”
That adds to blight and steers families away from the neighborhood.
“The first question always is ‘where are the schools?’” Clarke said.
The council president said that Hite briefed him personally on details of the plan the day before it was released to the public in a brief telephone conversation. Bass and Blackwell said they too had been briefed the day before the public announcement but none were consulted during the process of putting the plan together, they said.
Council’s options when it comes to influencing School District policy and SRC decisions are limited. Members can, and often do, give their opinions — but beyond that there is little they can do, aside from slashing school funding.
Council approved more money for the district in each of the last three years though in the last two budget cycles the city has sought to increase its power by first instituting a cooperative agreement with the district and then, last year, by awarding a portion of school funding as a grant, giving Council the opportunity to withhold funds.
Clarke said he expected the tug of war over money to intensify this year.
“We have no ability to influence operations,” he said. “The conversation, as to their ability to get more tax revenue out of the city, is going to be extremely limited.”
Blackwell was more explicit.
Noting that the SRC will not vote on the proposal until March she pointed out that Council will be heading into budget negotiations at the same time and the issue would be fresh in members’ minds.
“I am hopeful that we get some of this stuff worked out because if we don’t — you’re doggone right — we’re going to have a real problem here,” she said.
Clashes between city politicians and school officials are not new.
Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman left the District after several high profile battles with the administration and City Council. Ultimately, she lost the support of many elected officials including Mayor Michael Nutter and several members of City Council, a fact that led to resignation.
Clarke urged residents to continue to oppose the plan.
“I think the community should continue to show its displeasure,” he said, adding that he too supports a moratorium on closings.
“We are hopeful that in the end, we can have not all of these schools close,” Blackwell said. “We’re hopeful the District will reconsider and have community input because they know what works in their area and what doesn’t.”
Since this is not the kind of record anyone wants on their résumé, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s outrage about this city’s record setting murder rate is easily understandable.
Last year Philadelphia logged 324 murders — lower than the 391 in 2007 when Nutter won election to the mayor’s office but not the fifty percent reduction in homicides that Nutter sought to achieve during his first four-year term in City Hall.
This month Philadelphia logged 32 murders, according to a Philadelphia Police Department posting just two days ago — a rate higher than the 26 in January 2011 and the 24 murders in January 2007.
“To every criminal out there, I just put a $20,000 bounty on your head,” an angry Nutter lashed last week when announcing new initiatives to attack Philadelphia’s murder epidemic.
“We’re coming for you,” Nutter sternly promised murderers. “We will find you. …”
Nutter and many across the city are rightfully outraged at the public policy implications of gun related murders, non-fatal shootings and other crimes.
Crime-related expenditures for police, prosecutors, prisons, public defenders and courts consumes over a billion dollars annually, nearly one-third of the City’s entire yearly operating budget. Money spent on public safety is money siphoned from other areas like jobs-creating economic development and crime-impulse cutting education.
Companion to violence spawned public expenditures is the heartfelt concern carried by Mayor Nutter and others regarding how the chaos from crime ignites fear that saps the sense of safety that undergirds “quality-of-life.”
The reality is rampant murder rates make many Philly residents fearful on both the streets and inside their own homes because the gunfire producing murders often slams into the houses of the innocent.
The recent murder of corner-store worker Reyna Aguirre Alonso, in an execution reportedly related to her providing police with information about a previous murder, again underscores the need for an assault on both the killings and the conditions creating the climate where some care so little about snatching another life.
Mayor Nutter’s announcement last week of a reward fund to capture killers, a reward to recovering illegal firearms and more funding for witness protection is a good step towards addressing a part of the symptom — catching killers.
While a law enforcement crackdown on violent criminals is appropriate — especially murderers — an arrest-imprison dominated approach just recycles an already ineffective strategy, comparable to conservatives constantly saying tax cuts for the wealthy increases income and employment for the middle-class.
Philadelphia already sends more people to state prison than any other county in Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia is a city and a county.)
Courts in Philadelphia sent 2,420 people to state prisons in 2010 according to Pa Department of Corrections data. Allegheny County, which contains Pennsylvania’s second largest city of Pittsburgh, ranked second in sending people to state prisons in 2010 with 769.
Mayor Nutter, in his remarks last week, said “We have to send a message to every punk and every criminal … carrying a gun…”
Apparently shipping tons of people off to state prisons annually isn’t sending a message to STOP! — at least a message that violent criminals are heeding.
Incidentally, Philadelphians comprise 51.9 percent of the state prison inmates serving life sentences, and Philadelphians are 47 percent of those on death row in Pennsylvania.
If life in prison or death row isn’t curtailing persons from committing fatal crimes that “message” officials have been screaming with law-&-order policies of the past three decades is missing the mark. Murders in Philadelphia have exceeded 300 in each of the past five years.
Nutter is not naïve, nor does he like to hear himself talk tough. He knows, for example, that improving education and increasing employment can do more to root out crime at its cause than doubling the size of the Police Department or DA’s Office.
But that education-employment “message” is one persistently dismissed by conservative legislators in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., who willfully cut funding for education and jobs development programs in urban areas while willingly spending more on police, prosecutors and prisons.
Pennsylvania, during the past two decades, spent six times more on its prison system that on spending for higher education according to the findings of a NAACP report released in April 2011.
That NAACP report entitled “Misplaced Priorities” stated that in 2008 Pennsylvania taxpayers spent “nearly $290 million to imprison residents sentenced from just 11 Philadelphia neighborhoods…”
This NAACP report, that received little mainstream media coverage, also noted that 66 percent of Philadelphia’s “lowest performing” schools are located in those 11 neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration.
Suggestions in that report include shortening prison terms as incentive for prisoners to complete schooling and diverting drug addicts from prisons to treatment.
Obviously criminals are not the only persons needing to get a “message.”
It’s a crime for conservative Pennsylvania’s elected officials to spend over $30,000 to keep one inmate in one cell for a year, more than eight times the amount allocated for spending on college students.
That crime of inmate-not-education funding compounds the felonious fact of massive prison spending primarily providing jobs for whites in rural area. Placing prisons in rural areas increases governmental allocations (and electoral representation) in rural areas because of the presence of those incarcerated bodies — pick-pocketing urban needs.
Until conservative leaders get the “message” about the dire need for increasing education/employment-creation funding, mayors like Michael Nutter will find themselves handcuffed in cutting homicides.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
The former site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Homes is now nearly an acre of green with a special nod to the slain civil rights leader – a public art installation in his honor.
“It’s a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Cindy Dunn, deputy secretary for conservation and resources with the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who was on hand Monday for the ribbon cutting, officially opening the park. “He was a person who drew his inspiration from nature.”
The park replaces a 576-unit public housing complex that dated from 1960 and was once considered one of Philadelphia’s worst crime areas. King gave a speech at the community center in the old tower complex in 1965 and the complex was re-named in his honor in 1970. The tower was demolished in 1999 and plans were laid for the park – called Hawthorne Park after the surrounding neighborhood. Funding was announced in 2008 and ground was broken last year.
Now, the three-quarters of an acre site boasts 50 trees, 4,000 square feet of plant beds and a 19,000 square foot lawn.
At the center of it all is a stainless steel raised podium, created by sculptor Warren Holzman and called “Object of Expression,” to commemorate a speech King gave near the site in 1965.
According to Michael Johns, acting executive director of housing operations for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the lectern will serve as a “pulpit for the expression of progressive ideas.”
The park is surrounded by 245 housing units built in the housing authority’s new low-density style – red brick, single-family townhouses or apartments. Nineteen of them overlook the park.
Mayor Michael Nutter praised area residents and planners for bringing the park to the neighborhood.
“Every neighborhood should have green, open spaces,” he said, adding, “We are going to keep it clean,” explaining that by “we” he meant area residents in partnership with the city.
“Keep it clean. Keep it safe. Keep it beautiful,” said Nutter.
In addition to creating a markedly different look for the neighborhood, the park brings some cutting edge environmental features to the area.
In the southeast corner of the park, a brick plateau rises to overlook the lawn. It is constructed of 6,000 water permeable bricks that reduce storm-water runoff. Another feature of the park is a high efficiency irrigation system and drought tolerant plantings.
Decrying a proposed citywide curfew as a modern-day incarnation of Jim Crow, fugitive slave laws and apartheid, opponents of the plan may have stalled it in City Council this week.
“It’s never a done deal until the vote is called,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced it on Mayor Michael Nutter’s behalf. “We’re going to circle back, which is what you always do with a highly controversial bill, and secure the nine-plus votes that we need. Should I hear from Council colleagues that we need a re-look — we’re always open to making it a better bill.”
The bill categorizes teenagers into three groups and imposes a different curfew for each: those 13 or younger would need to be indoors by 8 p.m.; 14- and 15-year-olds have to be in by 9 p.m. and 16- and 17-year-olds would be required to be inside by 10 p.m., seven days a week during the school year. During the summer it would be extended by one hour for each category.
In addition, the proposal creates fines for parents whose children are caught violating curfew. Fines would range from $75 for a first offense to a maximum of $500. Parents would have 30 days to pay.
Brown admitted that a week was a long time in politics, and things could change before Council’s next meeting, when the issue is expected to come up for a vote.
“If [the opposition] gets to nine then of course I would never move the bill,” she said. “You never move the bill unless you have nine.”
The mayor’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the administration stands behind the plan and is urging its passage.
“The administration certainly hopes that council will see the wisdom of it,” he said.
Had the vote been held Thursday, Brown said, it would have passed, noting that she had nine votes. The bill failed to come to a vote this week because it had not been properly advertised. Brown declined to say who was standing behind the bill.
She spoke to reporters after eight speakers rose during council meeting to oppose the curfew. Most were African Americans, some affiliated with the Occupy Philadelphia movement camped out in Dilworth Plaza, who compared the measure to past oppression and urged council to reject the plan.
Among them was independent mayoral candidate Walli Diop Rahman, who blasted the proposal, which he said would hit Black youth the hardest.
“African youth in this city are being made scapegoats through this policy and essentially being blamed for an economic, social and political crisis that actually has been caused by this city’s administration and ruling elite,” Rahman said. “If the city were really interested in stopping violence and crime then it would first and foremost address the violence and violent policy coming straight from its own administration. I’m talking about the violence of the budget cuts, about schools, the violence of poverty, the violence of the public policy of police containment.”
He urged council to think carefully before they voted.
“As you consider this so-called solution, your first step should not be to create a curfew — which is not unlike Jim Crow in the South or apartheid in South Africa,” Rahman said.
He was not the only one to compare the plan to oppressive policies of the past.
“This bill doesn’t make sense,” said P.J. Ghose, a professor and social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. “It did not work in Detroit. It did not work in Compton. It did not work in Boston. It did not work in New York City. Do not create a law that creates a class of people and puts them under house arrest. Let’s make sure that we do not impose this type of racist, sexist policy on our city any more.”
If curfews worked, he said, they would be imposed on the “marauding” drunks coming out of Eagles and Phillies games and attending parties at the city’s universities.
“We know for a fact they destroy property and businesses way more than the kind of flash mobs that are being held out to be indicted by this bill,” he said. “This bill does not apply to the kids and teens living in Chestnut Hill. It does not apply to kids living in suburbia.”
Brown conceded that many of the opponents concerns were legitimate.
“For sure, it’s a law where the lines are fragile,” she admitted, adding that she had assurances from the administration that the law would be enforced uniformly across the city.
“It’s going to be universally applied,” Brown said. “It is not just in West Philadelphia or just University City … even in Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy.”
McDonald echoed Brown, assuring opponents that it would applied evenly.
“It will be enforced uniformly throughout the city,” he said.
Brown noted the law would expire in two years and give city officials the chance to gauge whether it had worked.
“There are mixed reviews about whether or not research supports the value of curfews,” she said. “That’s why we put in place a two-year provision. In two years the law will sunset. That will allow the administration time to capture the data and council members can have a chance to re-look at it and determine whether or not we want to continue.”
The bill is an important step toward changing behavior, McDonald said.
“We are going to be enforcing it, we are and we are going to continue,” he said. “We need to gradually, over time, change behaviors and expectations.”
If there’s a way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and pay tribute to those who make local neighborhoods the “beloved community,” Mid-Atlantic Health Care and the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church has found it.
Together they kicked off Pennsylvania’s King week, which according to a resolution sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, spans from Monday, Jan. 15 to Sunday, Jan. 22. The kick-off event took place at Enon’s Mount Airy campus, 2800 W. Cheltenham Ave. last Wednesday.
Philadelphia NAACP member Helen Green of Germantown felt it was important that the King celebrations include events that showcase community activism. She said her daughter, Cynthia Green of Wyncote, joined the Cheltenham NAACP recently. After being reminded of King’s legacy, she opted to join the North Philadelphia branch, which is near her own mother’s home.
“We really have to continue to keep King’s dream alive,” Green said. “I think we need to have programs like this so that our young people don’t take things for granted. We who are the elders need to come out and encourage them to participate in things like this.”
Cathy Hicks of the city’s Sheriff’s office concurred.
She said though the King Day of Service is helpful, she feels there should be more programs that directly teach about King’s legacy.
“I really want the King Day celebrations to be more like this — where we observe what he has done and then we can go and do service for the rest of the year,” she said.
Among the honorees were C. B. Kimmins, founder of Mantua Against Drugs. “It’s good to know that sometimes someone recognizes what you are doing,” Kimmens said.
For Malik Aziz, accepting the honor from his wheelchair was a proud moment. As one of the founders of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, and now executive director of Exhoodus Network, Aziz said that “10 murders every 10 days” in the city is unacceptable.
“I grew up hearing Dr. King, Malcolm X and the others talking about positive change,” Aziz said. “I tell the young men my story of what I did at 17 years of age. I want to save them from what I did. That’s why I am still working to save our children.”
The other honorees were Lillian Daniels, the Rev. Derrick Johnson and Raymond Gant. Among the guest speakers and award presenters were 13th District Congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz, Mayor Michael Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams and NAACP president Jerry Mondesire. Mid-Atlantic executives Dr. Jana Mallis, Jeff Grillo, Celeste Zappala, Diane Morgan and Dan McCathrey gave remarks. Additionally, Philadelphia’s own Bill Cosby phoned in his comments during the program.
Kitchen read a Commonwealth resolution that she sponsored declaring that from Monday, Jan. 15 until Sunday, Jan. 22, was King Week in Pennsylvania.
“This is a time when Pennsylvania can respect Dr. King’s legacy, and it’s a reminder that Dr. King understood that everyone needed to respect each other,” Kitchen said.