Philadelphia’s South Street used to be the place where all the “hippies met.” It was largely a conglomerate of French-themed restaurants, New Age bookstores, art theaters, cafes and boutique leather and craft shops. That has changed over time.
The street’s bohemian accents slowly died out, replaced by a crass commercialism—the news media now calls South Street “an entertainment zone”– that began to attract wilder groups of people. “Real” Philadelphians learned to avoid the area, leaving it to “Let’s Party Like it’s 1776” T-shirt wearing tourists, and to rough crowds who saw it as the place “to be” on the weekends.
But South Street was not the place to be on Saturday, June 5th at around 11:30 PM. That’s when a trio of young hooligans got into a fight not far from a Rita’s Water ice stand. According to (the liberal publication) Billy Penn, a person sitting at a nearby outdoor restaurant screamed, “They about to shoot!”
Shoot they did. Three people were shot to death — two men and a woman — and nearly 14 injured, some of them bleeding in the streets. At this writing, police have yet to identify the victims but they believe that one of the shooters may be among the dead. The city declared the South Street shooting to be the deadliest in 2022 and the largest recorded in the city for nearly a decade.
When I first heard about the shooting, I was sure it was not like those creepy loner, mentally ill mass murders in other parts of the country, but that it fit right in with Philadelphia’s street crime drug culture and drug turf wars and everything that goes along with that.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who has been conspicuously silent on the issue of gun violence in the city for quite some time, called the South Street incident “beyond devastating” and “yet another horrendous, brazen and despicable act of gun violence” that “has shaken many people in our community.”
D.A. Larry Krasner, the culprit responsible for letting huge numbers of violent criminals out of prison on early parole, tweeted:
The terrible crimes last night on South Street tell our Pennsylvania legislators it’s time for real action. Boycott NRA lobbyists, boycott NRA donations, and bring real common sense gun regulation to Pennsylvania. Now
Krasner’s tweet was met with a counter proposal: “May I also recommend that your office start prosecuting unlicensed firearm possession and felons in possession as serious crimes.”
A few days before the June 5th incident, the big talk in Philadelphia was about the violence that happened over the Memorial Day weekend.
Krasner stated that the violence that the city experienced over Memorial Day typified what the city has seen since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 – about one-and-a-half homicides a day.
“So sadly it is about average for that terrible period of time in this gun violence crisis,” Krasner said, while arguing that making arrests for gun possession without a permit “will not dramatically lower gun violence.”
“The notion that the way you’re going to solve shootings is arresting people for guns is missing the point,” he went on. “The way you solve shootings is arrest people for shootings. The way you solve homicides by gun is by solving homicides by gun.”
If our George Soros-knighted D.A. really believes what he is saying, then why is he talking about the National Rifle Association? “The way you solve shootings is arrest people for shootings,” not stopping donations to the NRA, et cetera, et cetera.
The City of Philadelphia experienced record-breaking gun violence deaths in 2021. During that year alone 562 people were killed and 2,000 injured. The fatalities were not due to assault weapons or to invasions of schools by mentally ill adolescents but by crazed criminals with (mostly) illegal handguns seeking revenge for drug deals gone wrong, drug thefts or drug turf war issues that tend to occur and reoccur in the same Philadelphia neighborhoods.
When the average tourist visits Philadelphia he or she is advised to keep out of certain neighborhoods. Online sites like Trip Advisor will tout the loveliness of Old City, Society Hill and the Rittenhouse Square area, where most of the city’s historic sites are located, while warning against areas like Tioga-Nicetown, North Central, Strawberry Mansion, Harrowgate and Frankford.
South Street was never included in the mix of neighborhoods to stay away from, although mention has been made over the years of the boisterous weekend crowds there who aren’t there for the crystals in the New Age bookstores. Even on a good night, there’s something about these South Street crowds that teeters on the edge of violence.
Then there’s the neighborhood of Kensington, known throughout the world as the largest drug market in the United States. Kensington attracts drug addicts from every part of the country. They come alone or in small groups, camp out in the streets under canvas or cardboard tents, or sleep alone alongside dumpsters or in store entrances along Kensington Avenue.
They come for the cheap fentanyl, which sells for $3-5 a dose. Or they come for the new meth, P2P, which turns users into sociopaths prone to hallucinations and irrational, violent behavior.
Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia saw 12 fatalities, including a 4-year-old child and a nine-year-old. A 30-year-old man was shot multiple times in West Philadelphia while another fatality occurred in Germantown. Some of these deaths and injuries were the result of crossfire; all of them–with the exception of the 4-year-old’s death (the boy shot himself with his father’s handgun while the latter visited a barbershop)—are drug- and/or gang-related.
Not only are these “gripe killings” becoming more common, they are counting among their victims more innocent bystanders, as the heretofore boundaries between safe and unsafe neighborhoods slowly become blurred.
Some Philadelphians wonder how long will it be before the entire city falls under the “bad neighborhood” category?
While Krasner has banned so-called “ghost guns” (the weapon of choice for criminals because they lack serial numbers and can be purchased without a background check), his reasoning for not arresting people who have handguns without permits seems to contradict President Biden’s tendency to blame The Gun rather than the criminal who commits an act of violence.
“Once in office, progressives don’t seem to know how to run anything more serious than a street protest,” an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal declared recently.
This is certainly true in Philadelphia, where blaming criminals doesn’t seem to carry as much weight as blaming The Gun.
The problem in Philadelphia and elsewhere goes much deeper than guns. Chicago’s lefty mayor, Lori Lightfoot, blames inner-city violence and shootings in her city on “racism.”
“Racism is a public health crisis that continues to rob residents of the opportunity to live and lead full, healthy and happy lives,” Lightfoot has stated, while neglecting the very sensitive (and potentially “racist”) subject of fatherlessness and the dissolution of the family structure that continues to “rob residents of the opportunity to live and lead full, healthy and happy lives.”
In 2020, Philadelphia saw 449 homicides, up 40% from 1990 when there were 500 homicides, according to the Philadelphia Police Department database. Children accounted for 195 of the shooting victims in 2020, with women numbering 229. 2020, of course, was a year plagued with lockdowns and fears related to COVID.
The COVID scare was merely the beginning of a citywide downward spiral that saw the freezing of programs created to help thwart gun violence. It also became an excuse to close courts and release many criminals
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter got it right when she wrote that while America “has more privately owned guns than most other countries, we also make it a lot more difficult than any other country to involuntarily commit crazy people.”
“The result of our laissez-faire approach to dangerous psychotics,” she added, “is visible in the swarms of homeless people on our streets, crazy people in our prison populations and the prevalence of mass shootings.”
For the longest time Philadelphia fit Coulter’s first two categories, but after June 5th it can claim all three.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, Frontpage Magazine and the Philadelphia Irish Edition. He is the author of fifteen books, including ”Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” “Death at Dawn: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” will be published later this year.