It’s been four months since 18-year-old Rashawn “Shawnee” Anderson—the Roxborough High School senior and budding basketball star—was gunned down near his apartment in the Abbottsford Homes projects. Police have yet to make an arrest in the Feb. 7 shooting, which investigators believe stemmed from a long-standing feud between rival youths from Abbottsford and nearby Allegheny Avenue. And, as many feared in the wake of Anderson’s murder, the feud has since escalated into a deadly street war that has a wide swath of North Philadelphia on edge.
Police now believe that Anderson’s death is related to at least two other high-profile shootings: The brazen May 1 drive-by at a basketball court at Whittier Playground, just off Allegheny and across the street from John Whittier Elementary School, that left one man dead; and the May 22 shooting outside the Felton Supper Club in Feltonville, which injured nine and drew the immediate attention and ire of Mayor Nutter.
“We’re operating under the assumption that the shootings are retaliatory,” says Capt. Stephen Glenn, commanding officer of the 39th District.
A police department source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided a few more details: The Whittier shooting is believed to have been a bungled hit on a 19-year-old man suspected to be involved in Anderson’s killing, carried out by two gunmen from the Abbottsford side. The intended target was shot in the leg and survived, but 25-year-old Brian Jones—an Allegheny resident who was at the basketball court but not thought to be involved in the feud—was killed in the hail of bullets.
Police also believe it was two members of the injured target’s crew that opened fire outside the Felton Supper Club in the wee hours of the morning on May 22, as a party sponsored by Curtis Brinkley—the San Diego Chargers running back and one-time West Catholic football star who grew up in Abbottsford—was letting out. There was talk on the streets that the two shooters involved in the Whittier drive-by were going to be at the party. “[Brinkley] had a lot of friends and Abbottsford people at the club that night, and that’s what drew the [Allegheny] side,” says the PPD source.
Police have no suspects yet in either the Whittier or Felton shootings—they’ve released video footage of the latter incident in the hopes of getting a tip from the public. Glenn says that the bulk of his manpower and resources are devoted to halting the war—a directive that comes straight from Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s office. “There are more than a couple hotspots in this city, but the eyes of the higher ranks are on this right now,” says Glenn, who worries that the cycle of payback is far from over. “There’s great concern, particularly after the Felton shooting, where all our intel tells us there’s gonna be retaliation.”
While police have not publicly named any persons of interest in Anderson’s killing, the investigation is focused intently on a violent drug-dealing crew that operates around 32nd Street and Allegheny Avenue. At least one member of that crew was shot at the McDonald’s at 31st and Allegheny in October 2009 during a fight reportedly over a girl. Three Abbottsford youths were later arrested and convicted of aggravated assault and conspiracy. Though Anderson is not believed to have been involved in that incident, police have speculated that his murder was long-brewing payback. But in the Anderson case, as well as the Whittier and Felton shootings—and so many other crimes around Philadelphia—investigators have been hampered by the “no snitching” code of the streets.
Particularly frustrating, says Glenn, is the fact that no one at Abbottsford has come forward to tell what they saw the night Anderson was killed. “Abbottsford is a very insular community, and they take a lot of pride in the fact that they’re tight and don’t talk to police or outsiders very easily,” he says.
But Abbottsford residents have reason to be wary, and fearful. Since Anderson’s murder, there have been a number of disturbing incidents. In February, bullets pierced a man’s car, striking both of his legs, as he drove through the projects to meet a friend. Another man reported being shot at while driving through Abbottsford in March, and one night last month, bullets shattered the bedroom window of 49-year-old Marilyn Allen, a 42-year resident of Abbottsford who lives next door to Anderson’s apartment, as she sat in another room. “I’m scared,” says Allen. “It needs to stop.”
It’s not much better during the day. Long known as “The Fort” because it sits atop a hill, ringed by a moat-like road, Abbottsford now feels more like a prison. Residents hang close to their apartments. Packs of kids don’t stroll to and from the Uncle Willie’s convenience store across the street like they used to before Anderson was killed. Day after day, the basketball court at the edge of the projects, which had always been packed after school once the weather warmed up, is deserted; perhaps because it sits perilously close to the road. Several residents say the pop-pop-pop of gunshots has been a nightly occurrence for months.
“I don’t really come outside,” says 28-year-old resident Corey Holmes, standing just outside his apartment door. “I don’t walk around here at night. No way.”
“It’s terrible up here,” says a 20-something woman who’s tending to the engine of her minivan while her three young children sit inside. “They’ve been shooting everywhere. Around the projects, down the hill, everywhere. I went to the office asking them to move me out of Abbottsford and they won’t do nothin’. I’m scared to death. I want to move.”
Things are equally tense along Allegheny. “They talkin’ about shootings up there? There’s shootings down here every day. Every muthafuckin’ day,” says a man who identifies himself as “Marcus,” who’s standing near the 32nd Street Pub. “But you don’t hear about that, do you?”
Malik Aziz, the Philly gang member-turned-anti-gang activist, says he’s been trying to broker a truce between Abbottsford and Allegheny for months. “Law enforcement, they have no idea how to deal with this. They’ve lost touch with the streets, so there’s nothing they can do to stop it.”
Aziz says he’s set up a meeting for sometime in the coming week, at an undisclosed location, with about 20 combatants from both sides. “They’re willing to show up,” he says. “They don’t want no police there, no press there. We’re gonna make sure there are no guns, no knives. I wouldn’t even be too concerned if they start punching each other, as long as they don’t shoot each other. They all want revenge, so we gotta talk some common sense into them.”
“I think the older guys [like Aziz] that lived through these things, I think they’re sincere about finding a resolution,” says Glenn. “They do want some autonomy. I don’t wanna say they’re not trusting of the police, but they prefer to do it on their own and they have not made the police department a partner in their efforts.”
But Glenn says the police will take all the help they can get—whether it’s crusading ex-gangbangers, cooperative witnesses or anonymous tips—to quash the violence.
“Our feeling is if we can just make a key arrest or two, we can put an end to this whole thing.”
There are big plans for the future: a group home for boys, a college scholarship at Roxborough High in Shawnee's name, a citywide mentoring program, and a basketball league. But even in its beginning stages, S4S has already shown itself to be a promising tool in bringing youth together to help stem the city’s violence—without the preachy, off-putting approach the city often employs to little effect.
Like most Abbottsford kids, Rashawn "Shawnee" Anderson frequently made late-evening trips down to Uncle Willie’s to grab a soda and something to eat. But just after 11 p.m. on Feb. 7, police say he was ambushed by at least one person who fired nine times from a .45-caliber handgun. Anderson was struck in the head and neck several times.