Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Young African-American men and murder in Philadelphia

Morning Call:

A bloody, bullet-filled weekend left 11 people dead across Philadelphia, where drugs and disrespect have trumped brotherly love and the murder rate is on pace to be the highest in a decade.

The city has seen more than one killing a day this year, totaling 127 as of Monday afternoon. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- whose populations are much larger than Philadelphia's 1.5 million residents -- have had fewer homicides this year.

The spike over the weekend was partly blamed on the first warm weather of the season. But rain or shine, Philadelphia police say the chronic problems remain the same: poverty, lax gun laws and a culture of intimidation that keeps witnesses silent -- and shooters on the streets.

''It's the community's decision right now,'' said police Capt. Benjamin Naish. ''They are the people that must stand up and get angry and say, 'Enough is enough.'''

They have, in a way. But the countless candlelight vigils, anti-violence rallies and community meetings have done nothing to stop the homicides, which are 17 percent higher than last year at this time. Officials, too, are at wit's end. ''Do something!'' District Attorney Lynne Abraham said at one news conference.

The admonishment was directed at Mayor John Street. Abraham and others have criticized him for a perceived lack of urgency in responding to violence that killed 406 city residents last year -- a nine-year high.

This year, Street has pledged to have 1,000 community activists and clergy trained in conflict resolution. He has paired a tougher juvenile curfew law with stricter enforcement, an effort mayoral spokesman Joe Grace said has reduced shootings by teens in one targeted area. The city also is spending $3 million to hire 400 parent truancy officers to keep children in school.

The efforts are commendable, but juvenile crime is a small part of the problem, said Lawrence Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center for Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. None of the murder victims over the weekend was a juvenile.

Most of Philadelphia's killings are by gunfire, most involve young black men and most are the result of arguments -- often over drugs but sometimes over trivial insults or perceived slights.

Last month, city officials announced plans to assign 80 additional police officers to a particularly violent neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia. The bullets flew anyway on March 25, and authorities say 28-year-old Jovonne Stelly died trying to get her children out of the crossfire.

The next day, police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson announced that top police brass would begin working in uniform in high-crime areas for four hours, one night a week. There were two murders that day.

In Philadelphia, a 'disturbing' black murder rate

Philadelphia Foolishness

108 murders in 100 days


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