Why I feel safe in 'Killadelphia'
July 6, 2012By Shannon McDonald
I feel safe in Philadelphia.
There. I said it.
The city was abuzz Friday morning about a man who allegedly opened fire outside City Hall for no apparent reason, ultimately being taken to the hospital after police wounded him during a standoff.
Earlier this week, everyone was talking about the teenagers involved in a Center City shooting as the rest of the city celebrated Fourth of July. Police also shot one of those suspects.
And not too long ago, though overshadowed now by the many shootings that have followed, a man was killed outside a popular burger joint in the even more popular Piazza in Northern Liberties.
I was on the Parkway watching fireworks late Wednesday night, less than two hours after that shooting. I went to the Piazza a week after that fatal shooting to take advantage of the open public space and its giant TV screen. I felt safe.
I've lived in Philadelphia my entire life, so I'll admit: I don't know when I'm supposed to not feel safe anymore. I don't have the experience of another city to compare it with. At what point do I give up on my neighborhood, where the moms who used to help plan block parties have since been arrested for drug distribution? At what point do I stop going out at night for fear of violence? I'm not sure, but I know I'm not there yet.
Data from the Philadelphia Police show 188 homicides to date this year. That's up from 166 this time last year, and higher still than numbers in 2010 and 2009.
It only takes a glance at a map to know most homicides still occur in the neighborhoods long associated with crime. Swaths of North, West and South Philly have far more red dots than most of the Northeast, Northwest or the river wards.
But it's these random acts of violence in the neighborhoods with better reputations that have people worried. What if house values go down? What if I'm next?
I've been criticized for saying it before, but I do expect a certain level of violence. It comes with the territory of living in a city. Blame what and who you will: There've been too many cuts to city services; our education system is in shambles; homeless outreach is inadequte; the gun laws aren't working. But even if all those problems were solved tomorrow, there would still be crime.
Until we can convince people with guns to not enjoy fireworks or not want to eat burgers outside, there will always be a certain level of risk. Just because you're an 18-year-old with a criminal record doesn't mean you don't enjoy the same things as a 30-year-old business professional.
I'd rather not jinx myself, but I've managed to live here for 25 years and not be a victim of crime. Not any crime. I've been a witness. I have close friends who've been victims of violent crime, in very different neighborhoods and under very different circumstances. I know that when I put myself in certain situations, I'm taking a chance. When thousands of people crush into one place, like the Parkway for fireworks, anything can happen.
That's not to say when I walk by Fourth and Chestnut I don't think of the fatal beating Kevin Kless suffered at the hands of a group who thought it was being yelled at.
And it doesn't mean when I park my car at the end of the block at night near the woods that I don't think about all the times a police helicopter has hovered over Pennypack Park looking for a wanted criminal.
I'm not more likely to be killed at Fourth and Chestnut just because Kevin Kless was. I'm confident I can eat a burger at the Piazza without taking a bullet. And I'll even voice the unpopular opinion that I have enough faith in this city to act accordingly before Philadelphia becomes the Wild West. There might be false starts, there might be clunky legislation, and Michael Nutter will probably call someone else an "asshole" before all is said and done. But if we can lower the homicide rate once, surely we can do it again. Maybe next time, it will even stick.
I'm frustrated, for sure, that my city's nickname is Killadelphia. No one can deny the reality that Philadelphia has a problem with violence, or that clear steps need to be taken to curb it.
But to leave a city over a high number of shootings is about the same as giving up driving because of a high number of crashes. You only have so much control over either, and living in fear won't solve the problem.
City officials need to be held accountable for our violence problem and the many other problems that feed into it. Without question, something has gone very wrong when a 16-year-old points a gun at police in the middle of a crowd. I could have been in that crowd. But I wasn't. I was in a different crowd at a different time, but probably equally at-risk, given the high temperatures and growing impatience for the fireworks.
I would never blame someone who's rattled knowing their block, their local park, their coffee shop - the place that makes them feel safe - has become a crime scene. But it's not a crime scene forever. The best approach I can think of is to keep in mind what makes a given place safe most of the time, be aware of factors that can make it less safe, but to focus much more on the former. It's worked for me my whole life.
Then again, I've never lived any place where crime isn't an everyday reality.
Do you feel safe in Philadelphia? Is it because of where you live or how you approach things? Was there ever a time that feeling has challenged? Tell us your thoughts in the coments below