West Philadelphia residents fed up with violence marched on Saturday to call for the community to break the code of silence that protects perpetrators.
The rally began at 51st Street and Haverford Avenue and ended at 54th and Udall streets, where a young man was recently gunned down outside his home.
Participants, many of whom carried signs bearing photos of loved ones killed in the city, marched through the streets with bullhorns escorted by police.
“I basically put this together in memory of my grandsons. I lost two of my grandchildren to gun violence,” said Sonya Dixon, whose grandsons Zakiyy Allford, 20, and Kenyon Allford, 24, were gunned down in June 2017 and September 2018.
“Zakiyy was 20 and never got to see his 21st birthday and Kenyon was 24 and never got to see his 25th birthday,” she said. “It’s a shame that neither one of them had a chance to live to see milestone birthdays.
“So I’ve been trying to fight for justice,” Dixon added. “My family have not gotten justice from the murders of our two boys and it’s important to me, it’s a passion, it drives me.
“It gives me purpose in life knowing that I am going to continue this fight, and I wanted to bring awareness to our neighborhood about this gun violence and how it has just absorbed every good thing about our community.”
Growing up in the neighborhood, children could play outside and seniors could sit on their porches and talk without fear of gun violence, but those days exist no more, Dixon said.
“You don’t see the children out playing like you used to, you don’t see old people sitting on their porches and just enjoying the beautiful day like they used to,” she said.
Dixon said the city is held in the grip of terror that keeps residents confined to their houses for fear of venturing outside and being victimized.
And although the problem is especially acute in large urban areas like Philadelphia, she says it is widespread.
“Today it almost seems as if there is some kind of demonic force over this city, this country. It’s horrible,” she said.
In the case of her grandsons, Dixon said people in the neighborhood know who the killers are but refuse to cooperate with the authorities because of the “code of silence” and the “no-snitching” rule on the streets.
“Silence is violence. Nobody wants to tell what they saw,” she said.
“They are not looking at how serious this thing really and it’s sad because this code that these children are living by and being faithful to won’t be faithful to them, and their parents may be just like what I am. ... We don’t have any justice because no one wants to speak up.”
Those who know but won’t tell are “cosigning” and supporting violence on the streets, she said.
Serita Lewis was one of the organizers of the march and a founding member of the group March for Our Lives Philadelphia.
“I began working on drug violence last year and this is the first time that I was able to do something specifically for our community,” she said.
Lewis said the march went to the places where Dixon’s grandsons were killed at separate times, in separate events.
“It was very poetic to kind of go back to those places, and the energy of the day was so significant because she was able to just talk about her frustration,” Lewis said about Dixon.
“One of our tag lines was, ‘End the code: silence is violence,’ because so many people feel like they don’t want to be the person to say something about something that happened in the neighborhood because they’d be snitches, but honestly we are giving way too much power to folks who don’t deserve it and we’re feeling arrested by a couple of people where if we took back our power they wouldn’t have that over us,” she said.
On hand for the march was state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who spoke about the loss of her son, Charles Johnson, 18, who was killed on the streets in a case of mistaken identity.
Johnson-Harrell went on to campaign for and win the office of state representative for the 191st Legislative District in honor of her late son.
Johnson-Harrell marched side by side with her husband, Yancy, and Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, bearing a look of determination to eradicate the violence that has taken away her son and so many other innocent people in Philadelphia.
“We stand here with all of the families that lost someone to gun violence,” Johnson-Harrell said.
“We shouldn’t have to be out here doing this. We need to take responsibilities for our own communities. No one is going to come in and fix this for us. We have to hold people accountable,” she said.
“I didn’t run for office because I wanted to be a damn politician,” said Johnson-Harrell, who received loud applause from listeners as she told the story of how the death of her son motivated her and her husband to act.
“I ran for office to hold people accountable because we know of programs that work but nobody wants to pay for them,” she said. “They are going to pay for them now.”