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.
“Here’s where the frustration lies for us,” began officer Thomas Davidson, captain of the 24th, at district headquarters on Whitaker Avenue. “We made arrests, we neutralized the threat. But still—and I’ve reached out in the community several times, over and over again—to find out, ‘Why is this happening in Port Richmond? What is the real reason?’”
As PW reported last week, residents are reeling from a string of violent attacks that occurred two weekends ago—including one on Sept. 9 in which a mob of mostly black and Latino men kicked in the front door of 37-year-old resident Mark Lavelle and assaulted him with a pipe in front of his wife and children. Three people were arrested, including a minor.
The next afternoon, another group rolled up to Lavelle’s house and, according to Lavelle, repeatedly called him a “white motherfucker” while threatening him if he brings the case to court. One of the people making the threats was reportedly the mother of a kid who flashed a gun at Lavelle during the attack.
Later that same night, mayhem erupted a few blocks away on Mercer Street, which runs alongside the A&W playground. Cops and kids were everywhere and men were stabbed. The street party ended after 38-year-old Alfred Cruttenden screeched up in his car and waved a gun at police, who shot him twice. He remains in stable condition.
On the street and online, reasons for the neighborhood violence vary. Some allege the weekend’s events kicked off with a fight in Campbell Square that was a result of a white kid pushing a black kid off a bike. Another theory holds that kids from Fishtown came looking for trouble with kids from Port Richmond.
Whether it’s race or turf or a combination of both, the phrase “coming over” is used a lot—sometimes it’s referring to people from surrounding neighborhoods, and sometimes it’s referring to people from the west side of Aramingo Avenue, an unofficial dividing line in Port Richmond.
“We can sit here and theorize till we’re blue in the face … but … only one person outside A&W was from outside the neighborhood. Which means it’s people from the neighborhood,” Davidson said.
One of two men who came late to the town-hall meeting said he lives near the Stokely playground—a breeding ground for trouble a few blocks from Lavelle’s house—and stood up to speak.
“On September 9 there was nothing less than a flash mob that came from the other side of Aramingo,” the resident said. “Straight across? Just to let you know the neighborhood is quite upset about it … just to let you know, phone trees have been established … and if it were to happen again, the men of the neighborhood will be out.”
His friend stood up and echoed that sentiment.
“I was there when the kids were lying down on the street with the police and one of the officers on duty said, ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be in this area. You know you’re looking for trouble.’ It’s a free country of course. But unfortunately, things get mixed up where people are coming over and not just kids, it’s adults coming over and threatening.”
Later in the meeting, when a third man stood up and vaguely referred to a plan of action coordinated among the men in the community—which came off as thinly veiled promise of swift vengeance—Officer Tina Willis responded.
“You mean, you’ll call 911, right?”
The room laughed nervously.
A woman raised her hand and cut to the chase.
“I’m afraid to let my 9-year-old out in the afternoon,” she said. “Because I’m afraid of what might happen.”
Since the attack on Lavelle, Veronica Szymanski—who works in the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations—has been pounding the pavement, talking to residents, kids in the park, staff at Carroll Charles High School, trying to get “a temperature” on the situation in Port Richmond, a traditionally Polish and Irish community bordered by Hunting Park and Kensington, communities with larger populations of Hispanics and blacks.
Szymanski, who works to de-escalate inter-group violence in the 24th, 25th and 15th district, was at the town-hall meeting to re-enforce the message from the D.A.’s Office.
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.