Showdown on Hurley Street

Events on what may be the city's worst block provide a stark glimpse into a Philly many Philadelphians never see. One former resident survived to tell the tale.

By Jeff Deeney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Aug. 22, 2007

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Shawn's landlord installed a $200 cabinet made of unfinished wood from Lowe's before they moved in, and those on the block with the same landlord got nothing.

Shawn and Ramon's landlord is tall and black with a lumbering gait. He works out of an office in Center City, and oversees a number of properties in Kensington, including the house across the street from Shawn and Ramon. He's not a slumlord, though it's hard to dodge the accusation with the properties he oversees.

This street wasn't like this before, the landlord assures you. The changes it's undergone are far beyond his control.

He installed the cabinets for Shawn and Ramon because he thought they were worth the investment. He won't make any renovations of the house across the street because its residents are late with the rent and the cops are always at the door. He suspects the tenants of drug dealing and would like to evict but can't bring himself to put them on the street, no matter how much he dislikes them.

Was the broken window a message intended for the landlord? Or to show Shawn and Ramon how things work on Hurley Street? Hard to say with no witnesses coming forward. But the broken window has set things in motion. The ball is rolling now, and there's no way to stop it.

On her family's second day on Hurley Street, according to Shawn, the neighbors start dumping garbage on their front steps. Shawn and Ramon rise up at this display of disrespect, talking loud at the neighbors from their stoop to let them know they aren't scared. Shawn lets the young girls on the block know she doesn't play, and would fight anyone at any time.

Shawn's younger brother Hakeem--or "Young Cannon," as he calls himself--doesn't help by talking sweet stuff to the same girls after his sister disappears into the house. The mothers and brothers of the girls watch closely.

Soon a full-blown beef is in the works. Lamar comes from the house across the street to let Shawn and Ramon know the official Hurley Street rules. He tells them he doesn't like them turning the lights off at night, and demands they keep the shades up 24/7. He suspects Ramon and Shawn are informants, and that when the lights are off they're watching his house. Shawn and Ramon tell Lamar they'll have their lights any damn way they want them. They take offense at the implication of snitching.

Shawn and Ramon also think their house was a stash spot before they arrived. The house directly south of theirs--the one that's sported a "FOR SALE" sign forever--is one of the block's many unoccupied structures.

The windows are shattered, and there are more long, jagged shards of glass piled up on the sidewalk in front. It's become the new stash spot. Lamar and some Latin boys on the block have taken over the house, and are using it to sell weed and wet.


It's now a week into life on Hurley Street, and Shawn and Ramon report things are getting seriously crazy. The boys on the block are throwing quarter sticks of dynamite into the empty houses late at night. The dynamite echoes in the dark like bomb blasts. The children can't sleep. This seems far-fetched, but a look inside one of the many shattered windows reveals scorch marks on the carpet.

"How can we raise kids here?" Shawn asks. "We can't even let them sit on the stoop. They have to stay in the kiddie pool in the back by the alley." Shawn says she looked out her kitchen window one afternoon and saw a couple of little kids pissing in the pool through the fence from the next yard over.

A storm brews, but Mona won't take sides. But in an attempt to adhere to her duties as block captain, she's signed up Shawn's two daughters for free lunches. Shawn is suspicious of the lunches, and won't let the girls eat them.

Everyone on the block knows something is going down. Details are scarce, and there are different versions of what goes on at night. This just happens to be Shawn's.

The block seems to be getting sicker, rotting from the inside in the summer heat. And the heat is relentless--humid, murky and oppressive. More windows get broken, and more boards get nailed up over broken windows.

Lamar is now controlling not only the house next to Shawn's, but the house next to that one as well. He comes and goes between them freely.

He ducks into the house two doors down, and emerges breathless, pacing in circles around parked cars. He's fixated on something in his mouth, and stares at it in the side mirror of a beat-up SUV.

He pulls his lips back, gets close to the glass and inspects his gums. After he's finished staring at whatever it is he thinks he sees, he starts to walk away from the mirror.

Now boarding: Neighbors trashed Shawn's house, rendering it uninhabitable.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Allegheny Resident said... on Jul 5, 2008 at 10:16AM

“I live around Front & Allegheny and I can let any reader know that the 25th police district although they try very hard to keep the peace... They have the worst district in the city now. From anywhere near K&A (Kensington & Allegheny) all the way to 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and Allegheny all in between Allegheny and Tioga are danger havens. Every block is the same. Even mine. This is what we live. The city needs to help us...”

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2. Allegheny Resident said... on Jul 5, 2008 at 11:15AM

“I live around Front & Allegheny and I can let any reader know that the 25th police district although they try very hard to keep the peace... They have the worst district in the city now. From anywhere near K&A (Kensington & Allegheny) all the way to 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and Allegheny all in between Allegheny and Tioga are danger havens. Every block is the same. Even mine. This is what we live. The city needs to help us... ”

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3. otters21 said... on Jan 2, 2009 at 11:38AM

“What a heartbreaking shame.This block and many others around it used to lovely with solid hardworking families living in the neighborhood. Crime was almost unheard of until the early to mid 90s. People took pride of their block and kept it almost spotless. Now its just another victim of the evil cancer known as white flight and the decent manufacturing jobs drying up in the area.”

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4. 3221 said... on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:00PM

“I lived on Hurley Street in the late 60's to mid 70's. It was a great "Philly" street. Hardworking families that cared for their neighbors. My aunt, grandmother and other cousins lived on the same block. Elderly ladies would scrub their stoop every week. It was home and it was a great place to grow up. After reading about Hurley Street, I am disgusted by what has happened to my old neighborhood. What a shame!”

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5. 3222 said... on May 3, 2011 at 01:05PM

“Ahh, nice to see the old block doing so well. I was lucky only to be there a few years after it went into its downward spiral and get out of there in 97. I had so many great memories growing up there, playing stick ball at the end of the block and freedom with all the other kids. Too bad it went down so quickly, but I'm glad to be out of there.”

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6. Steve Lee said... on Dec 7, 2012 at 11:59AM

“This is a shame, brings tears to my eyes! I grew up on 3200 D street, 1969-1985 when I left for the USAF. When I was young, I LIVED on the 3200 block of Hurley street, all day every day. Was a decent neighborhood back then. I could probably name 20 people I grew up with that lived on that block, many I still stay in touch with. Don't know what else to say, people have ruined that block and ruined the neighborhood.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:18AM

“All these years later, this story still brings chills. I learned the story as it unfolded, wrenching details hour by hour. It is incredibly hard for low income families to find decent and affordable housing in Philadelphia, and it is seldom in a safe and beautiful neighborhood. The comments about the story are a powerful message: it WAS a good neighborhood when there was economic opportunity; poverty is evil: it is not a definition of any person but it is an indictment of the priorities of our government on all levels.”

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8. Former Resident said... on Oct 23, 2013 at 11:11AM

“I remember reading this in 2007 and now again in 2013. I lived on the block from the 60's until the 80's. I never had a key to my front door. It was never locked as we never had any crime to speak of. Typical liberal rant from Anonymous blaming the government. We were just as poor in my time as now. Becoming enslaved to entitlements takes away respect for yourself and for others. Crime follows.”

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