The Philadelphia Tribune: West Philly rally calls for action against crime

Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune on June 5, 2019

By Nathanial Lee

The violence in Philadelphia continues, and so do the efforts of its communities to stop it.

On Saturday, residents of diverse neighborhoods gathered at 41st Street and Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia to challenge the community to get involved and to stop open-air drug sales, which are believed to fuel much of the neighborhood’s street crime.

Armed with bullhorns and information in the form of pamphlets and handouts, the organizers called on residents to take control of their communities.

“We are trying to promote change in the community, and it is going to take some time because this has been going on for some time,” said Pete Wilson, co-founder of Philadelphia Community Outreach and Democratic leader of the Sixth Ward.

“We are trying to encourage people to get involved. If the community’s not involved, then it’s not going to work.”

Wilson said the organizers realize that law enforcement officials and others seeking peace on the streets cannot produce the desired changes alone, but that change is possible if they work together directly with community stakeholders.

“We know that we can’t arrest our way out of this, so we’re promoting jobs, training, mental health, rent abatement, mortgage assistance, social programs, because we know people need help and we’re trying to provide that and promote change,” Wilson said.

“Let’s get away from the crime, drugs and disrespect. Let’s clean up our own area,” he said.

Wilson said he was motivated to swing into action along with other organizers who care for the community because seniors in the neighborhood couldn’t sit safely on their porches, children couldn’t play on the streets and residents were in fear of being victimized. He said the problem exists throughout the city.

Wilson said the groups involved in this effort have successfully cleaned up drug-ridden, high-crime areas such as 41st and Parrish streets and Holly and Reno streets, among others, and have erected cameras in high-traffic areas.

Ishaq Samai, co-founder of Philadelphia Community Outreach, said the organization has worked with residents, elected officials and law enforcement officials to clean up areas plagued by crime and violence.

“We put our program together over five years ago and we can show that we’ve knocked down the crime rate 85% in the communities we’ve worked in,” Samai said.

“We have the statistics to prove that when the communities come together on these corners and let people know that we’re not going to tolerate open-air drug sales on this corner, which is the real cause of the shootings on the streets, things can drastically change,” he said. “The issue is to get them off the corners and find them something to do.”

Joining the event was Altovise Love-Craighead, an inspector with the Philadelphia Police Department community relations unit, who said the rally’s organizers had a history of successfully transforming troubled areas.

“Anytime we try to help the community, we have to be a part of the community, so I joined with the groups here today to connect with them and to make sure that the Police Department is playing a part with community relations to address the issues that they want to address, the issues that are important to them,” Love-Craighead said.

Ronald G. Waters, who attended the rally, said the neighborhood has needed change for a long time.

“That change is to get people to stop supporting establishments such as the stop-n-go’s around here, otherwise known as nuisance establishments, the drug dealing which takes place in the neighborhoods, the violence which takes place in the neighborhood,” Waters said.

“If the community rallies together and addresses these issues, they will go away,” he said. “The only reason why they have been happening here as long as they have been is because it has been tolerated.”

Others who visited in support of the effort were U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, Sen. Shariff Street and Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell.