“Look at them … my God, they’re awful,” says 48-year-old Theresa Conroy as she stares out the window of her Roxborough yoga studio on a recent Thursday afternoon. She focuses her point-and-shoot camera on a group of teenagers about 20 yards away sitting on plastic crates behind the 7-Eleven at Ridge Avenue and Conarroe Street, smoking cigarettes and passing around a drink wrapped in a paper bag.
The kids turn and look toward Conroy. They start laughing, get up and leave. One flips her the bird.
Conroy—who spent 27 years covering Philly courts as a reporter for the Daily News before opening Yoga on the Ridge in 2008—is snapping photos of the teens to post on a Facebook group she recently created called “Dirtballs of Roxborough.”
Conroy alleges that she has been persistently harassed, intimidated and threatened, and that her studio has been repeatedly vandalized, by the same group of 15 to 30 kids—boys and girls, a mix of ethnicities—who hang out most afternoons and nights behind the 7-Eleven, drinking beer and getting high.
She says they’re hurting her business, other nearby businesses and terrorizing residents in what’s perennially been one of the safest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. “These little shits are going to ruin Roxborough,” Conroy says.
Conroy says her troubles began in May of last year, when some of the kids stole food from a party she was throwing at her studio. Soon, they started banging on the windows during classes and screaming lewd comments at the women doing downward-facing dog poses. Conroy went out and confronted them. “I said, ‘Could you guys just be quiet, could you leave?’ And that’s when you get all that crappy lip, they start yelling at you.”
Conroy says it quickly got worse. She claims the kids threatened to beat up one of her instructors; scrawled graffiti on her property; threatened to damage her car; and set fire to her schedule box. Her patrons grew scared, and some stopped coming, so Conroy started calling the police. The cops would chase the kids off, but they always returned. Conroy wanted them arrested for trespassing, but she says the cops told her “it’s not trespassing if there isn’t any fence.”
Conroy’s breaking point came on April 15, when she and her husband, Don Russell ( Daily News columnist “Joe Sixpack”), held one of their Happy Hour Yoga beer tasting and yoga events. During the evening, Russell, 55, caught one of the teens outside the studio pissing on their welcome mat. “[The kid] started yelling, ‘Come on, oldhead, right now!’ and raising his fists,” Conroy recalls. She says another one of the teens “said that he was going to get his mom to come out and kick the shit out of me.” Russell declined request for comment.
That’s when she decided to start “Dirtballs of Roxborough.”
“The cops didn’t help me,” Conroy says. “No officials have been able to help me. If it was just my problem I think I’d feel differently about it, but I know it’s not. So I thought I’d start a Facebook page and see if people can identify the kids, if the cops will pay attention.”
Mike Zinar, owner of Roxborough Shoe Repair just across the street from the 7-Eleven, says he’s not a “Facebook guy,” but is concerned by the uptick in graffiti, fights, vandalism and intimidation by kids over the past year. “I don’t know if it’s [the 7-Eleven kids] or the kids coming down from [Roxborough] high school, but the people that walk the Ridge and do some shopping, they bail at those times of the day [when the kids are out]—they’re scared,” he says. “We have asked [police] numerous times … show a presence, have a couple cars [drive by],” he says. “It happens for a short period of time … then it just fades.”
Three employees of a business adjacent to the 7-Eleven say they’ve seen the teens behind the convenience store drinking, smoking weed and fighting. “It’s a growing concern,” one says. All requested anonymity.
7-Eleven manager Nasir Khan admits the kids are a problem, but says he hasn’t witnessed any criminal activity and that the lights, security cameras and “No Trespassing” signs he has installed haven’t deterred them from hanging out—Khan says they often tear down the signs. Two nights earlier, he says, the teens were involved in a brawl in the parking lot. “We called the police but nobody showed up.”
On Good Friday, Conroy posted her first photo of the kids to the “Dirtballs of Roxborough” group. But by Easter Sunday, the Facebook group was gone. She says she took it down after a number of Roxborough residents—both kids and adults—discovered the page over the weekend and began posting vulgar and threatening comments aimed at her. “It started off exactly as I’d hoped, we had 225 fans and a lot of community support, and then they got on … the overall tenor of the adults was, ‘So what? We did worse when we were young. That’s Roxborough, you yuppie bitch, and if you don’t like it, move.’”
One of the commenters, 22-year-old Roxborough resident Angelique Pearo, started her own Facebook group, “Help Take a Stand Against This Dirtballs of Roxborough Page.”
“Does she have evidence of [the alleged vandalism and threats]?” Pearo asks. “Snapshots of children is not proof, it doesn’t give her the right to call them dirtballs. I know the kids in this neighborhood are not angels. I’ve seen kids fight. I’ve seen kids smoke weed. But … she cannot blame [this] on a specific group of kids, and take pictures of them and post them on the Internet without evidence,” she adds, calling what Conroy did “Internet bullying.”
“It’s supposedly these kids, but she is aware that there’s a high school up the street [Roxborough High School] that lets anybody and anyone from North, South and West Philly go to this high school?” Pearo continues. “They’re bussed in and they take the bus right across the street from her yoga shop. If she wants to complain about anything, she should complain about the [Roxborough High School] kids that are in gangs.”
Conroy rejects that argument. “You know, ‘people coming in from out of town’ is code for ‘black kids.’ There’s a belief that it’s other people who are being bussed in who are destroying the neighborhood—no, it’s your own little crappy kids.”
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4