As a Philadelphia teenager in the late 1960s, the intersection of Broad Street and Olney Avenue served as a major transportation junction, as well as a kind of neutral zone. It connected bus routes from our nearby neighborhood of East Mt. Airy, and fed us into the Broad Street subway, which would bring us to baseball games in North Philadelphia or right into Center City.

Just north of what by then had been a section with a rising crime rate, Broad and Olney was a location where middle class retail stores still flourished and where travelers and shoppers usually felt secure.

Several blocks further north, the 35th police precinct station served as a beacon of safety if ever an incident were to take place. That was during a time when our officers in blue were allowed to assert themselves to quell dangerous situations. But that was then.

This year, mass shootings have occurred in and around that location, during a time when city police have been restrained from performing their sworn duties. The most recent incident occurred on September 20, when young men emerged from their vehicles to shoot up a group of other youngsters, hitting six in all and taking the life of one 26-year old man.

Young men emerged from their vehicles to shoot up a group of other youngsters, hitting six in all and taking the life of one 26-year old man.

This followed an earlier incident, right at the same intersection, in February, when eight people were shot while waiting to take the Broad Street Line. It all happened in the mid-afternoon, at a spot normally frequented by about 40,000 riders (down to about 15,000 during the pandemic) each day.

Again, it occurred in an area that had been a relative safe haven for residents and commuters. But when it comes to Philadelphia, as in so many other big cities in the past two years, that term has been nearly erased.

In the year to date, there have been 427 homicide victims in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Police Department data. Just six years ago, that number was 212. Clearly, something is amiss in the City of Brotherly Love.

Since the assassination of George Floyd by a rogue cop in Minneapolis, progressives across the country have called for “defunding of the police.” Largely unsuccessful in these policy goals, the nationwide protests still have managed to greatly handcuff police forces across the country. The attempt to root out bad cops who have used excessive tactics has spilled over to the vast number of lawful ones who need certain tools to stop crime and protect victims.

Philadelphia’s problem is also the nation’s problem. The FBI reports that homicide rates rose some 29 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year. For violent crime, the difference was an increase of over five percent.

READ MORE — Krasner’s office asks for raises at hearing on impact of crime on Philly’s neighborhood economies

Although painful to recall, Broad and Olney was once a bustling neighborhood with more high-end men’s and women’s clothing stores, a movie theater known as the Esquire and a couple of dine-in seafood restaurants. As in so many declining areas, those establishments were replaced by take-out restaurants, sneaker and bargain athletic wear stores and a check cashing agency. 

It is true that many cultural factors may contribute to a crime uptick and a neighborhood’s decline, such as the increase in single-parent households. But there is no denying that the hands-off approach and overall leniency by big city mayors like Jim Kenney and District Attorneys like Larry Krasner have enabled mayhem to take place.

It was the American scholar John Dewey who said of democracy that it is “the necessity for the participation of every mature human being in formation of the values that regulate the living of men together.”

Among the most fundamental of these values is the rule of law. But that concept is slowly being compromised in neighborhoods across America. 

Broad and Olney is but the latest intersection in what has become a conflagration of violent crime. It serves as a window, one through which we view what is happening in our city and our country overall.

Jeff Hurvitz is a freelance writer and Philadelphia native.

16 thoughts on “Jeff Hurvitz: Broad & Olney – A window into Philadelphia crime”

  1. “Since the assassination of George Floyd by a rogue cop in Minneapolis,…

    And I’m done with Broad & Liberty now.

      1. Yeah he did…

        “Since the fentanyl overdose of George Floyd while in custody for passing counterfeit currency in Minneapolis…:

        There. Fixed it for you.

        1. George Floyd was having a DRUG OVERDOSE that the cop restraining him was inattentive to, possibly out of cruelty and possibly not. Either way, Saint George was not “assassinated” by a cop. Decent article marred by that unnecessary opinion.

          1. Fact is fact. The cop didn’t need to restrain Floyd for the length of time in which he did. He had help nearby for purposes of handcuffing and bringing him in to custody. Still, it does not excuse the idiotic cry for police defunding/ neutering, etc. Again, fact is fact.

  2. So this was caused by single parent households? I don’t think so.

    By the way, what does “As a Philadelphia teenager in the late 1960’s…” have to do with the story?
    It should be written “In the late 1960s…”
    Notice also there is no apostrophe in “1960s”.
    Who is your editor/proofreader????

    1. Single parenting contributes to children growing up with a reduced degree of discipline often. Not the sole reason. But do your research and you will perhaps learn more. As for occasional typos, are you having fun nitpicking?

      1. Jeff, it was a good article, you even mentioned “cultural factors” as a reason for the increase in crime.

        1. Most everyone in America knows that growing up in a “Fatherless” home creates a child (mostly boys)that are more likely to drop out of schools, look to gangs as a “family”, commit more violent crimes and end up in prison. Men need to stop making babies and become FATHERS. Women also need to stop allowing this.

  3. The story got me nostalgic for the kinds of changes I have seen in Philadelphia in nearly 30 years. When I began studying at La Salle University in 1998, I found Broad and Olney to be a fascinating center of activity between so many neighborhoods that had already or were about to go over the cliff into the great unknown of decline. Logan to the south was, as now, a hodgepodge of both immaculate and rundown blocks cheek-by-jowl, a shadow of what it was when my great aunt and uncle lived there years earlier, its own stretch of Broad Street moribund. Olney to the east was in flux: it had gone through strife in the 80s between new Korean immigrants and long-established white residents about Korean language street signs being put along the 5th Street business corridor, and by the late 90s the remaining shards of an Irish- and German-American neighborhood were disappearing on Olney’s northernmost fringes. Further northeast, Lawncrest was still a “Leave It to Beaver-esque” rowhouse area with a stable retail corridor on Rising Sun Avenue and almost no violent crime, but it too within a handful of years went through a massive turnover of long-established residents who had been on blast knowing Olney nearby had greatly changed before. It also began enduring an uptick in violent crime. The blocks nearest the Broad and Olney terminal were sort of a dead area, residentially, in my view; you never saw much activity outside any of the houses and there always seemed to be confusion about whether the area was Fern Rock, Olney, East Germantown, or Ogontz (a name that applied best but few ever use). The area was still then the home of then-City Councilman David Cohen, who had refused to move during massive white flight in that area in the late 60s and early 70s. The Ogontz Avenue corridor a few miles northwest was at the start of what ultimately became a time of great improvement thanks to organizations like OARC; much of its West Oak Lane neighborhood is far nicer now than it was in the late 90s. And of course you had La Salle Itself, which never really integrated much with the neighborhood and was attended by a majority of students from the suburbs or other mid-Atlantic states that thought they lived in a war zone. In the years since, despite the terminal still being one of SEPTA’s busiest, the Broad and Olney area has far fewer stores than in the late 90s and less pedestrian traffic much of the time. It really is a window into the various challenges that have faced and continue to face Philadelphia across the long term. Perhaps that is what all major urban crossroads show us in a lot of cities. While we can easily say the city is at a very low point in terms of political leadership, vision for the future, and with respect to violent crime, Broad and Olney reminds us how entrenched a sense of insecurity much of our city conjures in people, for thirty years ago and today, that area has a mixed reputation at best, and as recent crimes point out, at times a feeling of worry about that area may be warranted.

    1. RC, you certainly have witnessed the changes. The crime and blight continued a move north over the years.

  4. Chanting “fact is fact” doesn’t magically turn opinion or fake news into fact, and we have far too many “journalists” who can’t tell the difference.

    Bonus point for stepping in “assassination of George Floyd by a rogue cop in Minneapolis” unnecessarily to make the point that lefty cities struggle with “defund the police” movements.

    At their obvious peril.

    If B&L is scraping the bottom of this barrel, it’s sad to hear.

    1. This is an opinion piece and views can be nuanced. I stated my belief on that one issue, while the larger body of work tried to pinpoint the absurdity of the defund contingent.

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