There’s something profoundly amiss in Philadelphia.
Being no stranger to the realities of urban living, I don’t say this lightly. But its resoundingly clear that while the cogs are in place, the machine doesn’t seem to be working quite right. Or even at all.
It’s not that I’m some sort of hardened veteran. Chances are, I’ll never witness some of the horrors taking place in our neglected urban spaces. However, I would cringe at an accusation of naivete. When I was young, I had terrible ear infections. Nights, I would wait in the ER until after the gunshot victims had been treated. I just relocated from what many people still consider the most dangerous city in America, Washington DC, where I lived across the street from an open-air drug market. I’ve found love on the streets of the South Bronx, fallen asleep to the music of ambulances, made friends with the hustlers on 125th St.
I’m not glorifying the ‘hood. However, the point I’d like to make is that I’ve seen poor neighborhoods that are actually healthy and vibrant, where people aren’t dying so quickly I have to keep hitting “refresh” on the city’s homicide screen.
So, how am I to process the record amount of bloodshed taking place around me?
No wait, how are we, as Philadelphians, to process this?
We can chronicle the violence, turn the victim’s lives into slideshows, step over the stuffed animal shrines. We could turn our head, focus on all the distractions happening elsewhere; the art gallery openings, sparkly soirees, the skyscraper-sized celebrations. We could run away to the suburbs.
It makes it especially easy to remain detached when people from places like the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership say that the violence only affects a “certain” part of the population, and thus we needn’t worry.
To be a good urban citizen is to know that’s a blatant falsity, and even if it were true, doesn’t let us off the hook.
But what can we do?
The mayor’s office offers the familiar taglines; Smarter Policing, Gun Reduction, Violence Prevention, Community Involvement.
Scrap that; we need some new ideas. We need Presidential candidates elucidating the real reasons why urban centers are experiencing a resurgence in crime. We need opportunities, not lip service. Engagement.
Philadelphia, oh what you could be…