Three pedestrians were murdered and eleven injured late Saturday night when multiple shooters fired illegal “do it yourself” firearms, or “ghost guns,” into a crowd on Philly’s South Street, a hotspot for business and leisure.
One suspect is in police custody, but the response from the city has left many businesses choosing to close early.
Rich Zeoli, host of The Rich Zeoli Show on 1210 WPHT, talked with Councilman Mark Squilla on the proposed temporary solutions: government-mandated closures and curfews. While Councilman Squilla calls for interdepartmental synergy among Philly’s elected officials to come up with a plan, Zeoli counters, “here’s your plan: send police there to protect people and fight criminals.”
Squilla says it’s the businesses in the South Street corridor who are asking for this plan.
“[U]ntil we devise a plan so we can make sure you’re safe, that curfew will make sure you’re safe and guaranteed that nobody else gets hurt,” Squilla said. “We as a city need to take responsibility. I’m not saying this is the right step, and this is an interim step just so a plan is in place so these businesses can open up.”
FULL TRANSCRIPT — (Audio available here and embedded below).
Rich Zeoli: I wanna welcome you to the program. Councilman Mark Squilla is with me. He represents the part of Philadelphia that was under siege the other night. Councilman, thanks for making time for me. I know you’re very busy right now.
Councilman Mark Squilla: Yes, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
RZ: Yeah. So, what’s going on with South Street? I know that the city said that South Street, which was the street where the shootings happened the other night, is gonna remain under a curfew right now, right?
MS: That is correct. They started the curfew last night and, you know, I believe until we have a safety plan in place that we should make sure that, until we’re able to protect the residents, the businesses and the visitors and customers, we need to have a curfew there, because some of our businesses themselves were closing early just because of feeling unsafe on the street. So I think we, as a city, need to propose a plan of how we’re gonna make that street safe, and then allow those businesses to open back up with that plan in place.
RZ: Would the businesses be on board with that, you think, Councilman?
MS: Well, listen, we wanna work with them also. They’ve been reaching out to us previous to this with concerns. We tried a couple different tactics of periodic closures on just sidewalks or vehicles, and none of that has worked up to this point, so we are working with the business district. There is a business district there, it’s called the Headhouse South Street business district. We’re working with them and the businesses to come up with a plan that both could be beneficial to them where their business can operate and also be safe at the same time.
RZ: Now, Councilman Squilla, let me ask you — the idea that we can make it safe, which is the goal here. What do we have to do, knowing that we’ve got this prosecutor in Philadelphia who doesn’t prosecute people who have illegal guns?
MS: Well, my goal is to bring all these people, all these stakeholders, into a room, work on a solution that can be supported by everyone. We need to let the police know what they can and cannot do. We need to let the residents know what is happening, what the police are able to do and what they’re not able to do. And then we know what enforcement measures we’re gonna be able to dictate and how we could prosecute these things to make sure that they stick.
But having people on different sides and having people pointing fingers at each other doesn’t work, and it’s not a solution, and we could keep blaming each other for everything that’s happening, but we’re all elected officials here in the city of Philadelphia. We could work with our state and federal colleagues on gun control, laws and bills, but until they’re passed, we, as city, are responsible to make sure our residents and our businesses are safe to function.
And that’s what we need to do; get in the room, and let’s get a clear message to everyone what our plan is, and that we all support that plan and that, when the police do enforce that, we have their backs, and we will make sure that the people are safe during this time.
RZ: I understand that, but what magic bill in Harrisburg would’ve fixed this, or would’ve prevented this?
MS: But there isn’t a magic bill. You know, a lot of it has to do with policy and how we do policing. I believe we should be more proactive in policing. If we have people that are blocking vehicles in the street, they should be told to leave and disperse, and if not, then those people would have to be arrested.
We have ATVs and cars driving on sidewalks and going in different directions. Those people need to be stopped and those vehicles need to be confiscated. So we need to make sure that message is known and that this behavior will not be tolerated. And that has to be uniformly, though. It has to come from the mayor’s office. It has to come from the council. It has to come from the district attorney’s office. And we have to make sure that everybody is on the same page, because sending mixed messages allows this behavior to continue to flow and operate.
And unless we’re not on the same page, then we have to call the people out who do not wanna participate in making the city safer. And we have to let that be known.
RZ: Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent, no doubt about that. We’ve watched so many of these quality life crimes happen. As I’m watching the video of the shooting, as it’s taking place, Councilman, I couldn’t help but notice how filthy the streets are as well. I mean, trash everywhere. It’s like, it doesn’t look like a — it looks like something out of a movie, almost. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. Little things like that.
And yes, the ATVs, people blocking the streets … I mean, all of those things contribute to this environment that is going to breed more crime.
MS: Right. And I wanna say South Street, the Headhouse District does do a pretty good job in cleaning up. They clean up every day. They have a cleaning detail that goes out in the morning, after the businesses are closed at night. Now, when there’s thousands of people on the street and people tossing stuff in the street at that time. And obviously, when you have an incident like that, anybody who’s carrying anything and stuff will get tossed and thrown. But they do do a pretty good job in cleaning up that part there. So that is part of their mission that we work with them, and we work with sanitation at the end of the night to do a sweep for that street. So there are things in place to help with that.
But the main thing is to get people on the same page. And like I said, my goal from this is to have people be held accountable for what is happening. And we can always point fingers at one individual or another, or the police, or the DA, or Congress, but we are also elected and we need to be held responsible. We can’t just point fingers at others.
We need to get everybody in the room, come down with a plan, and then stick to that plan. And guess what? If it doesn’t work, we need to tweak it. And then we need to be more proactive on addressing this ahead of time so that it doesn’t happen.
And we be reactive to, then what do we do after it happens? And, you know, I support diversionary programs. I’m a big supporter of that. I also support gun violence prevention programs. We need to do all of those things, but enforcement needs to play a role in this. And without all of them together, we’re gonna end up talking about this next year at the same time.
And we can always point fingers at one individual or another, or the police, or the DA, or Congress, but we are also elected and we need to be held responsible. We can’t just point fingers at others.
RZ: All right, so Councilman Squilla is with me. If we close South Street for what time, how long, and then if that’s closed, isn’t the crime just gonna move to a different street?
MS: Well, what happens is, South Street is known obviously as a place to go. It’s where people like to meet each other. And, you know, it’s always been a great part of Philadelphia to visitors and residents alike. We have a lot of businesses there. We want them to be successful. So closing South Street is not a long term solution.
RZ: What does that mean, closing South Street though? What does that mean?
MS: That means at a certain time, nine o’clock at night, it would be — the businesses will be closed from a certain street east, and there will be no vehicles or pedestrians allowed in that area. Uh, so there will be —
RZ: So the criminals just go to a different street though, right?
MS: Well, I mean, most of the people are attracted to South Street for the party atmosphere. So will they go to a different street or will they go to a different venue? They may, but then they may not all be —
RZ: But why punish law-abiding citizens and businesses and people by denying them the ability — I love South Street! I love Headhouse Square, I go to it all the time. Why can’t I go to Pizzeria Stela, for example? I haven’t done anything wrong. They haven’t done anything wrong. Why close them?
MS: Well, because, see, the businesses were closing on their own early.
RZ: Well, that’s their choice.
MS: Yeah, but they were so fearful for their people visiting their businesses and for their staff, that they decided —
RZ: Okay, so, instead of the government forcing them to close, why doesn’t the government go and protect these businesses and people so that the street can stay open? Why would we give into criminals and shut down our streets and our businesses ‘cause there are criminals? Why would we do that?
MS: Well, we — until we have a plan in place to make sure everybody is safe —
RZ: Councilman, here’s your plan: send police there to protect people and fight criminals.
MS: Yeah, but see, you make it sound so simple. But then we have people who think policing is different. You cannot stop individuals from doing things. They have first amendment rights. You know, we have to make sure that the police —
RZ: Businesses have a first amendment right to remain open. And the government has no right to force them to close ‘cause the government can’t do their job to keep those streets safe.
MS: Well, I’m not disagreeing with you with that. But if the police are saying, “we’re not going to enforce these things and we’re gonna allow these people to do that,” and these businesses end up getting hurt, or somebody, that’s our responsibility, too. So, we need to make sure that the police know what they can do to enforce it. If they’re saying, “no, this is not enforceable any longer, we’re allowing these people to do these things.” You know? And the business is saying, “we don’t want you to allow that, we don’t feel safe, and we need to close because you’re not protecting us.”
RZ: Councilman, there’s a big difference between, if I own a hokey shop and I choose to close ‘cause I don’t feel safe, and you telling me I have to close. There’s a big difference with that. And, I’m sorry, but where does the city get the authority to force me to close? ‘Cause the city’s acknowledging the criminals have won and the streets are not safe.
MS: No. And see, you’re missing the point. The point is that police and the city need to know what they can and can’t enforce. So if we’re gonna allow that lawless behavior to go on and saying, “You know what, that’s okay,” what they’re saying? The same thing you’re saying about businesses, certain people are saying this is about freedom to speak. It’s about a right to be in the open space. “You can’t move us from this open space. You can’t stop us from dancing in these places. You can’t stop us from blocking the front of these businesses because we have that right.”
RZ: So my business has to close and I gotta lose money because you can’t move somebody who’s blocking the entrance to my store?
MS: Correct. Right. So we’re saying that, until we devise a plan so we can make sure you’re safe, that curfew will make sure you’re safe and guaranteed that nobody else gets hurt. We as a city need to take responsibility. I’m not saying this is the right step, and this is an interim step just so a plan is in place so these businesses can open up. These businesses reached out to us and said we need to do something to protect them. Right? So my plan is to get these agencies to work together. As far as the mayor’s office, the DA’s department, the courts, the Sheriff’s office, and our stakeholders, to say, “This is what we’re going to do to protect these businesses so they can stay open.” If somebody’s blocking the highway, we need to tell ’em to move. If they don’t move, we need to arrest them. If somebody —
RZ: And until that time comes where the city decides that we have to tell them to move, I lose revenue. I have to fire people, probably. I’ve had a hard time making it through Covid, but now my business is gonna be shut ‘cause the city can’t do its job and keep these streets safe. I don’t — look, I understand the publicity point of this and making a big point of saying, we gotta shut down so we’re safe. I get it. But that’s not an answer. I’m sorry. It’s not an answer. The answer is you send as many cops as needed to be on that street to protect people so this doesn’t happen, and arrest people. That’s what has to happen here. Forcing businesses to close is just gonna kill a neighborhood.
I’m not saying this is the right step, and this is an interim step just so a plan is in place so these businesses can open up.
MS: Well, you have two points there. We had a multitude of cops on the street that night. A multitude. We had an extra force. We had two highway patrols. The people shooting were right in front of the cops. One officer was shooting at one of the active shooters. That is not stopping it. Right?
So you’re saying, put those people in danger just because they want to, it’s okay to put them in danger because yet we can’t protect them. It’s our responsibility to protect them, and we’re not doing a good job right now. So —
RZ: We need to protect you by shutting down businesses and restaurants and bars at a certain time and saying, “sorry, we failed. The criminals have won. Stay in your homes, lock your doors. Don’t go on the streets.” That’s the message.
MS: No, it isn’t the message. ‘Cause we’re working with the businesses on this model. So we work directly with them. This is something they want us to do too. So unless you’re speaking to the businesses on the street, you don’t know what they’re feeling and what they’re going through.
So to just say that that’s the wrong thing to do, I’m saying this is a short term solution for a week or so until we figure this out and work with them on a strategy to protect them. And you could have your line. You could say, “this is horrible because the city’s taken businesses’ rights away,” all right. But we’re working with the businesses on this model, and they understand what we’re doing because they wanna be safe, also. We’re failing on making them safe, that is true.
So until this plan is in place and how we’re going to enforce that, and I think we are hoping to have this meeting this week. So this is not gonna be a five year process to keep South Street closed or have a curfew on South Street. So we need to do that together. And, you know, the same argument is on both sides. People are using your argument for the first amendment rights and freedom of speech and to be on the street, to be able to disrupt this behavior. They’re using that argument as you’re using it for the businesses.
We need to work together. The businesses are working with us on this. And so they understand our challenges as a city and we need to work with them to make sure they’re able to operate, to make sure their people working for them are safe, make sure the people in their businesses are safe. So this is not the answer, but this is a way to get to the answer.
And it also forces the city to come up with this plan instead of just talking nonsense and saying, “this is what we’d like to do.” It forces us to have a plan in place so that people are safe, the residents and our community are safe, and people that frequent those businesses so those businesses can make money. They can’t make money if they’re worried about somebody getting shot on that street every day. So we’ve failed in that part, but now we have to fix it.
RZ: All right, Councilman, good conversation. I appreciate your time and the back and forth. Thank you for it. I know this is obviously very, very near and dear to your heart. This is your district. So Councilman Mark Squilla. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. We’ll talk again.
MS: All right. Thank you. And thank you for allowing me to come on.