Saturday in Philadelphia was a study in altruism.
In the wake of the brutal sexual assault and murder of Sabina Rose O’Donnell—and the 124 people murdered in Philadelphia as of June 6—homicide has been higher in the collective consciousness of the Killadelph than usual. O’Donnell was a pretty and popular waitress at the hip Piazza hangout PYT, and news of her tragic death has rattled the city.
The Philadelphia Police Department, still searching for O’Donnell’s killer, is dealing with its own losses as the alleged killers of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski and Officer Isabel Nazario, two cops killed in the line of duty in 2008, begin trial this week.
The only good news in the face of all this tragedy and death is that, like cover subject Police Officer Kathryn Battle does every day, citizens are coming together to help out the families left behind.
Last Saturday afternoon—after a night that saw a 3-year-old hospitalized after being struck in the head by a stray bullet in Olney—two very different communities hosted three very different parties all with the goal of raising spirits and money.
Starting at 3 p.m. at Finnegan’s Wake and spilling into a street party at 4th and Spring Garden streets, Philadelphia police officers, families and supporters scarfed hot dogs and beer at the 14th Annual Police Survivor’s Benefit.
By 4 p.m., the crowd was thick enough to require a sharp shoulder to slice through and swelled as the hours went on. A partygoer donned a T-shirt that read, “A city that makes enemies of its police had better make friends with its criminals,” others wore T-shirts and hats emblazoned with gravestone dates and badge numbers of specific fallen officers.
A guy in a curly wig, fake porn ’stache, Elvis shades and shiny gold tights peeking out beneath a brown bathrobe is standing next to me, hanging out next to the dunk tank. He leans over. “Do you know who I am?”
I admit I don’t.
He straightens his back, plants his legs and dramatically whips open the robe.
Underneath, the guy’s sporting a day-glo green ball-hugger Borat bathing suit stretched, and I mean stretched, over a gold bodysuit.
Meet Sgt. Al Lopez. “He’s the strictest disciplinarian at the [Police] Academy!” says a woman nearby.
Every year, Lopez dresses crazy and volunteers for the dunk tank, inviting his recruits to have a go.
“When they’re at the Academy, I make them do push-ups,” he boasts. So they gladly pay $5 for a chance to drop him into a pool of ice water.
Next I met “Roundhouse Ron,” a friendly, biker-looking dude who says he has 26 years with the Crime Scene Unit.
“The Police Department trained me to take photographs, so I flipped the script and use it to make money for them,” he says. Siranni is standing in front of a table splayed with calendars he shot and designed that feature photographs of chicks in bikinis reclining on motorcycles. He says the calendars raised $16,000 for survivors’ families last year.
Maybe not all the fundraising efforts were totally appropriate—like the sex-toy gift basket auctioned off alongside sports-themed ones—but the party was a study in altruism. If you want to make the world a kinder place, or at least more affordable in the wake of tragedy, everyone’s got something to bring to the table. Even if it’s a dildo.
As the party got rowdier, a small fundraiser for O’Donnell was beginning a few blocks away in the empty lot at Third and Girard, a short walk from where her body was discovered last Wednesday morning. With little disposable income, the dozen or so artists, led by Philly Folk Parader Barb Gettes of the Spinning Leaves, donated what they have— guitars, a soundboard, social-networking skills and lots of friends—to help out. Urban hippies they are, the goal was to raise a few dollars and “clear the air.”
By 7 p.m., only a few people had gathered at the cocktail tables set up in the parking lot. It felt kind of empty, with only a hot wind and sounds of a trolley car rumbling, the occasional screaming ambulance and a lone musician strumming at a mic. A homeless man walked over, sat on the curb, took off his shoes and rubbed his feet, nodding along.
Local musician Todd Henkin sang a few songs before talking directly to us.