Philadelphia was once given the nickname The Cradle of Liberty, because it is where the United States began, philosophically. In recent years, this city has taken a turn for the worse. This is our second entry looking at the violent crime in our hometown. The first is here.
Three Philadelphia police officers were shot this week. The third among them, Charles Cassidy, was killed when he was shot through the forehead as he walked into a Dunkin Donuts. Philadelphia’s police commisioner, Sylvester Johnson, said that Cassidy was coming into the doughnut shop on a routine check, as the shop had been robbed on September 13th. Frankly, I don’t think his presence needs to be justified or explained. If he went there for the stereotypical doughnut and cup of coffee, that’s fine with me. Police have tough jobs, especially in this city, lately. If they need some food and caffeine, that’s fine by me. Hell, let the city pay for it, even.
The thought is that, with the murder rate so high, thugs have stopped considering whether or not they’ll get caught. They have no hesitation to just turn and shoot a police officer. There’s a million things that need to be done to stop this.
Philadelphia’s mayor is John Street, who is the worst mayor of any major city in the country. He is corrupt. He is arrogant. He is offensive. He never gets into the news because he’s making some kind of grand announcement about new businesses or events in Philadelphia, or for bragging about some of the great things in Philadelphia. No, he makes the front page of the papers because just about every member of his staff has gone down around him, arrested by the feds for various forms of scandal and corruption. It’s incredible that he hasn’t been arrested, too. He makes the local news for wasting a day in line to buy an iPhone (he couldn’t send an intern?). Or for spending a day in a wheelchair–instead of coming off compassionate and interested in the challenges that the handicapped undergo–he comes off as stupid and lazy. John Street, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t killed a soul, but if anyone is to blame for allowing this epidemic of murders to occur in Philadelphia, he’s at the top of the list.
Thankfully, Street’s incompetence will be soon replaced by Michael Nutter. Nutter, like every “serious” mayoral candidate in Philadelphia for past 40 years, is a Democrat. Nutter grew up in West Philadelphia, where he still lives. He went to the University of Pennsylvania. He has spent his life in this city, as part of this city, and as this city is bleeding, we are desperately turning to him now. He can’t take office soon enough. The election is next week. He takes office in January. Nutter “won” the mayoral race back when he won the Democratic nomination, in the spring. He won the nomination because he came across not only as intelligent, reasoned, and articulate, but he came off as willing to do everything necessary to combat the city’s problems. (Full disclosure: Mrs Thursday works for Nutter, but we were big fans of his anyway).
The hallmark of this determination is his “stop-and-frisk” program. Under Nutter’s leadership, the Philadelphia police department will have the right to stop and frisk anyone at their discretion. If anyone frisked it found to possess an illegal weapon (or, I imagine, any other illegal nonsense) they can be arrested. Most of (if not all) of his Democratic challengers opposed such a plan of action, defending the rights of citizens. They lost, because there are two types of people in Philadelphia right now: people with something to hide, and people with nothing to hide. If you defend the right of privacy and convenience as you oppose something that might stop crime, then you support the crime itself. That is how bad things have gotten.
I do wonder, however, how viable Stop’n’Frisk is if the city’s thugs have no discretion about shooting cops. If some clown–like the one who shot Charles Cassidy–is stopped for frisking, what’s to prevent him from avoiding the search by pulling his gun on another officer? There’s certainly a hope that people who own illegal weapons will carry them around less, but if Philadelphia starts using this technique, I truly hope it is with caution and vigilance.
Some people blame the US Government, which has taken money away from local law enforcement in order to combat terrorist attacks. You’ve seen 24? Yeah, well, Jack Bauer’s paycheck is preventing police from being able to do their jobs properly. In school, children are taught to wear their seatbelts all the time, even on short trips to the store, because most car accidents happen within a couple miles from home. This, of course, is common sense, as most of the driving people do is within a couple miles of their home. Short drives to the store, the movies, to school, to the bank, to church. Likewise, you know who’s going to murder people in Philadelphia? People in Philadelphia already. Terrorists, to the best of my knowledge, are responsible for zero deaths in the city of Philadelphia this year. By June, Philadelphians had killed well over 200 of each other, and I have no idea how high that total is by now. The stupid, violent people that are already here are going to be the people who fire stray bullets that hit children and parents and students and cops and, I don’t know, cab drivers. Just random people going about their days. Philadelphia does not have a terrorism problem. It has a regular, old-fashioned, horrific local-violence problem. Money, time, energy, manpower and brainpower need to be spent to combat first the symptom, and then they need to vigorously attack the structural causes of this problem. (Update: 339 homicides in Philadelphia as of 11/02/2007).
What are the problems in Philadelphia? Economy, for one. There are a lot of poor people Philadelphia. Education, for another. 48 percent of Philadelphians do not graduate from high school, well above the national average. Only 18 percent of Philadelphians have college degrees, well below the national average. Education is a mechanism for upward social mobility. In a city like Philadelphia where jobs are not easy to come by, the amount of education an individual has can make or break their future. Philadelphia used to be a blue collar town where high school drop outs could still expect to advance in their industries. Now as service has trumped manufacturing as the major industry in Philadelphia, those high school drop outs are turning to drug trafficking and theft.
Transportation is another problem. Philadelphia is a vast city. From West Torresdale in the farthest reaches of the Great Northeast, to Eastwick, way down in Southwest Philly spans more than 25 miles. From the Delaware River in the East to Chestnut Hill in the west, another dozen miles pass. Philadelphia has two subways: the Blue Line, which follows Market Street from 69th Street until Front (1st) Street, and then heads north along Front and then Kensington Ave; and the Orange Line, which follows Broad Street from Olney in the north to Pattison Ave and the stadiums in the south.
God willing, that link will take you to a map of Philadelphia. If it does, you should be able to see three lines on it. The big dark line is a very rough boundary of the city. I well aware that in a few places I’m off by a number of blocks–I’m just trying to give the rough idea. The blue line is, you guessed it–the Blue Line Subway. Likewise, the straight orange line is the Orange Line. Now, if you live in the city of Philadelphia, and you don’t live within a few blocks of one of those two lines, you have TWO options for getting around. The slow, expensive, and infrequent trains that run throughout parts of the city (perhaps we’ll draw a train map another time), or the superslow, somewhat cheaper, totally unreliable bus system. Well, I guess there’s a third option: own a car. I’m convinced this keeps poor areas of the city poorer, and, for that matter, more dangerous. If you people can get to a place cheaply, easily, and rapidly, then they’re more likely to go there. There’s a fantastic cheesesteak place way up in Torresdale (the place, Chink’s, is about a mile past the northeast end of the Blue Line), and I’m not going there too often because the commute is a bitch. The lousy transportation breaks the city into tiny communities (which is normal) that have, frequently, little interaction with each other (not normal). If the community is violent, then it’s likely to stay violent.
I love this city, but it has a lot of problems. Today, Michael Nutter was planning to have a rally to get his constituents excited before the election. With three city police shot in 4 days this week, the message changed from “Ra-ra, let’s go Nutter” to “Something will be done”. Unsurprisingly, neither John Street, nor outgoing police commissioner Sylvester Johnson were invited. In just a couple of months, Michael Nutter will be made responsible for the future of this city. Frankly, Mayor Nutter can’t get here soon enough.
In a show of support for our police forces, WMMR, a local radio station, is encouraging local businesses to display the above sign. We, at the Curious Mechanism, agree with this message and would like to pass it along. Please show your support for the men and women who serve our city.