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.
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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. firstname.lastname@example.org