Arguments over one thing or another sparked yet another series of shootings in South Philadelphia Wednesday night with tragic consequences, leaving two people dead and two more wounded in an exchange of gunfire that included police officers.
Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said candidly that the 17th Police District is either very quiet or very busy and right now, it’s super busy.
“The girl fight, that’s an anomaly,” Evers said. “But there are a lot of street gangs, drug gangs and different affiliations that spark off trouble. Someone gets shot and that touches off a round of retaliatory shootings. You have a gang on 13th Street, 5th Street, 27th Street and another group that calls itself M-16. We have extra patrols in the community, so we’re ready for retaliations. When the shootings began Wednesday night we were already in the area.”
Lt. Evers said that the latest round of violence in South Philadelphia started around 8:34 p.m., when 17th District police responded to a report of gunfire in the vicinity of the 1500 block of South 26th Street in the Grays Ferry section. The victim has been identified as Quinzale Stanfield, 21, of the 4100 block of Mantua Avenue.
Stanfield had been shot in the head and was pronounced dead at the scene. While officers were covering that incident, they received a report of gunfire in the 3100 block of Tasker Avenue.
“The responding officers observed a gunman firing at another man on the ground,” Evers said. “He’s been identified as Kevin Jones, a 24-year-old Black male from the 1500 block of South 31st Street. He was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he later died from multiple gunshot wounds. The suspect fired in the direction of the officers and missed, hitting an 18-year old-female who was behind the officers. She was struck in the jaw and taken to HUP. She was in critical condition last we checked.”
Evers said that police officers pursued the gunman north on 32nd Street, where more shots were exchanged. The suspect was grazed by returning gunfire and was apprehended at 32nd and Dickinson streets.
Police recovered the black semiautomatic handgun the suspect had tossed under a car. The suspect, whose name had not been released by Tribune press time, was taken to the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in stable condition.
“We’re looking at some names we’ve gotten in response to the first shooting and expect some arrests shortly,” Evers said. “I think there are a lot of motivations for these shootings — some are related some aren’t. We’ve got a lot of extra patrols on duty in that community right now.”
In an effort to create a snapshot of the rapidly changing Point Breeze and Grays Ferry neighborhoods, Universal Companies this week received a $100,000 grant from Wells Fargo Bank to conduct a survey of the neighborhoods and draft a public report on their demographics as a first step in the development of neighborhood strategic plan.
“We’re trying to get a much more informed assessment of the condition of the housing market, existing homes, the potential market, who owns properties, how much is home ownership, how much is rental,” said Rahim Islam, president and CEO of Universal, listing a number of other items — like education and income levels — that will also be part of the survey. “It allows us to be better informed when we try to make decisions.”
According to Islam, Universal Companies will be researching the area bounded by Washington Avenue, Snyder Avenue, Broad Street and Grays Ferry Avenue. Preliminary work has already started, and Islam said he expected a report sometime this summer. In addition to a door-to-door survey, Universal will be poring over property records, tax records and school reports.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents both areas, said, “For me, this is making sure there is a mixture of affordable housing, and mixed income housing as it relates to Point Breeze and Grays Ferry,” he said. “But again, that’s only one aspect of it. It’s an overall comprehensive plan.”
Point Breeze and Grays Ferry are segments of the city that are rapidly changing.
As real estate prices in Center City and surrounding neighborhoods rise, Point Breeze and Grays Ferry have seen a growing tide of newcomers pushing south. They are more affluent than the area’s traditional residents. Also, they are often white, moving into what have historically been Black neighborhoods.
The changes have divided many residents of both sections of the city along economic and often along racial lines.
Universal, owned by music mogul Kenny Gamble, is a Black-owned company that has a history of being active in the neighborhood. That has not exempted it from criticism. It faced resistance when it took over Audenreid High School. And, critics often charge that it is an agent of gentrification.
Tiffany Green, leader of Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, a group that has battled developers in the neighborhood could not be reached to comment on the grant or study. In the past the group has fiercely resisted change.
Islam said Universal’s approach to the dilemma of gentrification is slightly different and that a strategic plan will aid both neighborhoods as they evolve.
“The only way to combat [gentrification] is to compete, to get into the arena, buy properties, develop properties and make sure they are affordable,” he said. “This process allows to reshape this process through a much more scaled approach. If we do nothing, nothing will change.”
He would like to see more affluent Black families move into both neighborhoods.
Ultimately, Islam said, Universal’s report will help the company be competitive for a $100,000 federal Promise Neighborhood grant. Universal received a $1 million grant in 2011. The community revitalization funds are intended to help poor inner-city neighborhoods with an infusion of federal money — much of it aimed at education reform.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime for us,” Islam said. “And, really be more informed about what our next step should be.”
Johnson said that despite the turmoil caused by the neighborhoods evolution, he felt sure residents would come together to revive the neighborhoods.
“We’re at a crossroads,” he said. “We’re making a comeback. I only see good things on the horizon as we move forward.”
The James Alcorn Elementary School in Gray’s Ferry will make learning a little more comfortable this coming school year, as school district officials have recently authorized an extra building for the school to educate its sixth- through eighth-grade students.
Alcorn, at 32nd and Dickinson streets, is now slated to become a K–8 school and the upper grade students will be taught in a building adjacent to it, said Chief Academic Advisor Penny Nixon.
“Alcorn was actually a K–5 school that grew to be a K–8, and for years, students were housed in an annex, and a few years ago, that annex was closed,” Nixon explained, noting that Alcorn’s retrofitting is not related to the district’s decision to close several schools and relocate those students to other neighborhood schools. “It came down to two issues — one around space. There was not enough adequate space in the building for all K–8 students — and to improve academic programs.”
Nixon said the realignment will result in K-5 students, while the adjacent building — Alcorn Middle Years Academy — will house sixth- through eighth-graders.
Nixon said the other factor was the district’s commitment to improve the academic results of Alcorn. According to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data provided by the school district, Alcorn’s academic results have been poor, with third- and eighth-graders scoring roughly half as well as their peers in reading and math. And according to the latest results from the School Performance Index (SPI) following the 2010 school year, Alcorn finished with the lowest scores in its comparison group, which includes Rhoads, Bryant, Blankenburg, Smith, Huey, Mifflin, Kearny, W.D. Kelly and Steel public schools.
But instead of shutting Alcorn down, the district has decided to give it one more chance.
“Alcorn was one of the schools struggling academically; that’s why we’ve focused on space and academic achievement,” Nixon said. “It really isn’t an expansion. Alcorn was on our Renaissance List for two years, so we knew it needed improvement.
“Additionally, community leaders came to us in regard to working on the school,” Nixon continued. “Given the additional support, we think we’ll see improvement at Alcorn.”
That community involvement led to the recent meeting between the community and district concerning Alcorn’s future. Nixon recently sent a letter to all Alcorn families, outlining the forthcoming changes. The next public meeting on Alcorn is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22 at Alcorn.
“Thanks to efforts by the community and district, turnout [for the first meeting] was excellent,” Nixon said. “At least 173 people turned out to that meeting, which is a large number, because there are only 165 sixth- through eighth-graders attending Alcorn.
“This week is for K–5 parents, and also serves as the orientation for both schools, so additional parents and community members will be there and are welcome.”
Freshman state Rep. Jordan Harris — in office just 32 days — has hit the ground running, already fleshing out two bills he hopes will help Philadelphia’s large population of ex-offenders.
“Philadelphia has a large population of folks who have found themselves on the wrong path and have since been on the right path,” he said, recounting the story of registered nurse he knew who was unable to get a job because of a non-violent offense she had committed more than 20 years ago. “While the good Lord may be forgiving, the criminal justice system isn’t.”
Harris would like to inject a little forgiveness into the system.
His first proposal, a bill that he has not quite finished drafting, would automatically expunge an individual’s arrest record if they were not convicted after their arrest. The second, also incomplete, would give individuals convicted of non-violent crimes the opportunity to have their records expunged after a seven-year period and an appearance before a judge who would ultimately make the decision.
“Folks, in my opinion, deserve a second chance after they’ve proven themselves,” he said. “This is not a Black issue. It’s not a white issue. It’s not a male issue. It’s not a female issue. It’s an issue that affects lots of Pennsylvanians.”
Harris sat down with the Tribune to discuss his agenda for the upcoming term.
A freshman, elected in November to represent the 186th Legislative District, Harris, who took his seat last month, said he plans to be very active in his inaugural session.
The 186th is made up of Point Breeze, Gray’s Ferry and a large swath of Southwest Philadelphia, several of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. The area is plagued by drugs, crime and unemployment. Solving those deeply entrenched problems will take time and a nuanced approach on many policy issues, Harris said.
“They’re all intertwined,” he said. “I think we need to take a smarter approach on how we address things.”
But, he’s dug in, and hopes the two bills he’s working on will help. Beyond those two initiatives, Harris was reluctant to discuss specifics except to say that he has plans for more legislation.
Among them is a bill that would ensure that parents are permanently represented on the School Reform Commission.
“Their voice needs to be more permanent — a parental voice — it shouldn’t be happenstance,” he said.
Also in the works are several proposals, Harris hoped would be “revenue generators” for the city.
Working, even briefly, as a state legislator has forced Harris to consider a broader perspective as he works in and for his native city.
“Relationships are key. To be an effective legislator you have to be able to get somebody from a different part of the state, sometimes from a different party, whose district has different circumstances to see why it’s important to give you a vote,” he said. “And to do that you have learn issues that don’t necessarily affect your community. Anybody that wants to affective in Harrisburg, they have to be able to do that.”
The freshman representative recently opened a district office on Point Breeze Avenue at Wharton Street. He has plans for two more.
Harris succeeded former state Rep. Harold James who represented the 186th from 1989 to 2008. James was replaced by city Councilman Kenyatta Johnson but then retook the seat after Johnson resigned to take his place on council.
Harris and Johnson, whose districts overlap in many areas, are closely tied to state Sen. Anthony Williams, a political mentor, whose district in many areas overlaps theirs. Prior to his election to the state House, Harris served as the city’s youth commissioner.
The recent outburst of gun violence in the 17th Police District underscores the urgent need for more police patrols in affected areas and the need to crackdown on drug gangs.
Gun violence last week in the 17th Police District included shootings that injured 13 people and killed two in the Grays Ferry and Point Breeze sections in South Philadelphia.
In one of the incidents in the 1200 block of South Bucknell Street, two children, ages 2 and 10 were among the victims of gun violence in the Point Breeze section. Among those wounded September 27 were Andrea Cooper, 59, and her two-year-old granddaughter, Aisha Cooper, who was wounded in the stomach and hand. At press time, Aisha remains in critical condition. A 10-year-old who was wounded in the incident was released from the hospital.
The incident started as a fight between young people and escalated.
The next night in the nearby Grays Ferry section, two shootings incidents led to gunfire killing two people and injuring two others. Investigators said they believe the two shooting incidents were related.
The shootings reveal the terror and sense of lawlessness that too many law-abiding citizens have to live with in some of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods.
Police said many of the incidents may be connected to drug gangs that are targeting rival groups as well as infighting among the gangs. Investigators also said gang members recently released from prison may be spurring the burst of gun violence.
Police said before the outburst of violence last week shootings were down from 59 last year, to 42 this year.
Community organizers said increased police patrols were effective in keeping violence down by helping to clear corners.
Officials said they would increase patrols in affected areas and will investigate gang activities in the affected areas. These efforts should help bring normalcy back.