Last weekend in Port Richmond was one of the most violent in recent memory, and it all took place within a few blocks and in or near parks that residents say increasingly attract trouble after dark.
It all started Friday night when a fight broke out in Campbell Square Park. Judging from the piles of broken glass and amateur graffiti left behind—including incorrectly drawn pentagrams and backward swastikas—whoever it was was drinking illegally and looking for trouble. Though it’s doubtful they were actually trying to express Satan worship or anti-Semitism, at least some of the violence is racially motivated.
The neighborhood rumor mill cranked out two possible causes for the fight: Some say it was beef over turf, that some kids came over from Fishtown. Others heard it began when a white kid pushed a black kid off a bicycle.
Maryann Trombetta, president of Port Richmond’s Town Watch, walked up on the scene at Campbell after her regular Friday night patrol. Trombetta says cops were everywhere and a chopper swirled above, painting the park in bright light. The kids scattered.
Mark LaVelle, 37, lives a few blocks away from Campbell Square, but closer to Stokely Playground, another park residents say trouble-seeking kids take over at night. On the entrance hangs a sign that warns: no trespassing between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Someone covered the word “trespassing” with stickers. Now it reads: “No cops between the hours of 10PM and 6AM.”
LaVelle says a mob of crazed teens beat him with a pipe in his own home in front of his wife and kids about 11 p.m. on Friday.
He believes his assailants may have been seeking retaliation for whatever went down at Campbell Square, and he just happened to be in the way.
“I guess they were coming back looking for anyone,” he says.
LaVelle, a volunteer soccer coach, was loading sports equipment into his car when he spotted “six or seven carloads of black and Hispanic males pull over down the street.” He estimates the mob at “at least 50” dudes, maybe up to 75. When the crew emerged from their cars, he saw some were holding bats.
“I told my wife to call the police,” he says. Meanwhile, LaVelle figured he’d jot down license plate numbers in case there was real trouble. “I walked down and I started getting their license plates with the help of two kids walking by,” says LaVelle.
“As the mob again turns the corner, [they] see us and start chasing us. The two kids, I grab them I tell them to run into my house… I’m outside my house now. I asked, ‘What’s going on here?’”
When they came after him, LaVelle ran back into his house and locked the door. His wife, 1-year-old twins, two older boys and a cousin were also in the house.
“They kicked in my door,” he says. “A Hispanic male came through it and hits me in the shoulder with a pipe … another Hispanic male punches me in the face. That’s why my eyes are swollen. As I kicked him off my step, a black male was swinging a gun in my face.”
Someone yelled, “The cops are coming!”
He says the police nabbed two assailants on the spot and picked up a third one a few minutes later.
The next day, Saturday afternoon, LaVelle says 20 to 30 men between the ages of 16 and 40 rolled up to his house.
“I thought it was safe,” says LaVelle. “It was during the day.”
“They were yelling, ‘You white motherfucker! We know where you live now watch what happens if you go to court.’ They made this whole racial thing, ‘You’re white and you’re getting Spanish and black kids locked up.’”
“I said, ‘It had nothing to do with it.’ They said, ‘Watch what happens if you go to court you white motherfucker.’”
“What I’m pissed off about is that the racial card doesn’t apply to me,” says LaVelle. “My Spanish cousin lives with me. I have nieces and nephews who are black.”
The father of four says he filed a roll-call complaint, a term for increased patrol in response to a threat. But he didn’t see any more squad cars.
As expected, more residents and city officials than usual showed up at Port Richmond’s town-hall meeting this week to discuss recent violent incidents that have terrorized the neighborhood.