When the Phillies won the National League pennant, the after game downtown celebrations were decidedly downscale. While a few celebrants wiggled up (and down) various streetlamps, and while the hoopla in the street got some press attention, overall the celebrations paled in comparison to past victory celebrations in the city.
Can that lackluster crowd be blamed on the fear of something criminal happening? A random gunshot or two into the belly of the crowd, a replay of what occurred on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on July 4 when gunshots were fired into a crowd of thousands at a fireworks display?
Even stalwart urbanites now seem to recognize that Center City can be dangerous. This is proven by that banal, overplayed refrain I hear whenever someone announces they’re headed there: “Be safe, be careful.”
In other words, watch your back while waiting on subway platforms; while walking on Camac Street; while moseying along Chestnut or Walnut. Call it the “Krasner effect.”
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Tom McGrath of Philadelphia magazine recently observed:
“After two years of pandemic, the truth is that Center City, like so much of our society, is probably never going back to what it was in March 2020. Too much time has passed. Too many new habits have been formed. Too many attitudes have changed. In fact, there’s a powerful argument to be made that thanks not only to the pandemic but to other trends having nothing to do with the pandemic, March 2020 actually marked the end of a four-decade long chapter in Center City’s history — a period in which it thrived but much of the rest of Philadelphia didn’t.”
While McGrath mentions crime as a debilitating factor in the “new” city after 2020, he does not mention how crime has multiplied since the coming of District Attorney Larry Krasner. He no doubt had his reasons for avoiding the K-word. Still, it pays to be optimistic even if that optimism comes with guarded enthusiasm. As a plus, Center City’s high end retail is still thriving with shops like J Crew Walnut (where you can book an appointment with a personal stylist), the Shops at Liberty Place, Express, and Joan Shepp, proof perhaps that high fashion can survive both riots and plague.
Yet this does not negate the changing landscape of Center City, something that McGrath alluded to when he mentioned that “More than half the jobs in Center City don’t require a bachelor’s degree.”
Crime is Philadelphia’s Achilles’ Heel, as evidenced by a recent attack on Philadelphia’s historic Strawberry Mansion, built in 1789, one of seven house museums in the city. At the turn of the 20th century, the mansion was a popular restaurant (novelist Henry James once dined here) but it later became a less prestigious place to eat until the mansion was restored and opened to the public as a house museum in 1930.
Today, the house stands as one of the city’s crown jewels, thanks in part to a recent $2,000,000 renovation. Tour groups regularly meet there and the house is also rented out for banquets, wedding receptions and the like.
Sadly, the mansion is located on the east side of Fairmount Park in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Its vulnerable location has made it the occasional target of vandals, a situation that has worsened since Krasner emasculated the city’s criminal justice system by releasing criminals and encouraging the Philadelphia Police Department to not prosecute certain crimes.
An email from a friend who works for the City brought the Strawberry Mansion story to light when he told me that a group of teens “raided the Strawberry Mansion house, broke the glass doors on the rental tent and attacked a female worker who was cleaning up after an event. The police did nothing, except to tell the victim that she should not be alone in the park… In other words, it was her own fault for getting accosted.”
While shootings and murders engender a dramatic but temporary (emotional) impact, the passage of time tends to dilute even the most gruesome murder into a cold statistic.
Because the raid on the mansion was not reported by the Philadelphia media, few knew that the city’s largest historic house museum had been vandalized. The raid also brought to light the new police attitude under Krasner: the fact that they told the female worker that she should not have been “alone in the park” when in fact her job demanded it.
This “Krasner-ized” attitude seems to suggest that the police in many ways have admitted defeat in the war against crime and criminals.
Other Philadelphia historic house museums that have been the object of vandalism include Olmsted, the former estate of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of Central Park), and Woodford mansion, built in 1758 by a friend of Benjamin Franklin’s.
It is said that a perfect storm is created when multiple incidents come together in a kind of “cataclysm bouquet.”
This is demonstrated by yet another email from my city worker friend who told me that his bank in Germantown was not only robbed (again) but that the plate glass windows in the front of the bank were literally blown out, necessitating the closure of the bank for several days.
This comes as no surprise because Krasner’s reformatting of the criminal justice system has so infected the city that almost no venue is safe, be it a bank, a crowded subway train platform, a city Wawa, or a Macy’s Department store women’s restroom where a rapist hides in one of the stalls.
While shootings and murders engender a dramatic but temporary (emotional) impact, the passage of time tends to dilute even the most gruesome murder into a cold statistic. Yet amid the numbers of these first order crimes there exist dozens and dozens of smaller manifestations of lawlessness that do not involve homicides, but which affect the quality of life in Philadelphia.
Consider the random raids by hooligan teenagers who travel in packs of ten, fifteen and sometimes over 100, who take it upon themselves to harass individuals on the street, or invade stores like Wawa or a 7-11 en masse where they then proceed to shoplift and sometimes trash the joint.
In September, a Wawa in Northeast Philadelphia was raided by a large group of students after school dismissal time. The students ran through the store overturning shelves and smashing products, causing thousands of dollars in damage. The same time this was happening, a Roxborough area Wawa had to deal with similar but less dramatic after school attacks.
It’s becoming a given in Philadelphia that whenever a Wawa store becomes popular, it’s only a matter of time before it’s raided and trashed by schoolchildren.
Unless, of course, social justice rioters manage to trash it before the school children can get to it.
In 2020, a Wawa flagship store in the downtown area at Broad and Walnut Streets was destroyed by George Floyd rioters.
Several years ago, a large gang of students chased the manager of a downtown Dunkin Donuts in a subway concourse, causing him to die on the spot of a heart attack.
In October, Wawa corporate headquarters, located outside the city in Delaware County, announced that it was closing two Philadelphia stores on Market Street for “safety and security reasons,” and that other stores in the city would have reduced overnight hours. Wawa, apparently, had had enough.
When asked what he thought of the announcement, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “I don’t think it’s a bad omen at all,” while Krasner called it, “Another opportunity for entrepreneurship.” Meanwhile, the normally super-woke Philadelphia Inquirer took issue with Kenney’s nonchalant statement, saying: “Crime and daily shootings in Philadelphia are major concerns for businesses and residents in every corner of the city.” Ironically, the Inquirer — in blind, robotic blue city fashion — supported Krasner when he ran for reelection as DA in 2001.
Resistance to the Krasner regime has been growing in the city despite the fact that Krasner was re-elected in 2001 by a 2 to 1 margin. And yet, just like the Inquirer’s initial failure to connect the crime dots to Krasner’s policies, most of the people in the City of Philadelphia suffer from the same malady.
What is this if not ample proof that the city suffers from a “developmentally disabled” form of “wokeness,” despite the shocking 1,000 murders and 1,000 carjackings over the last 22 months.
The jump in carjackings — once primarily the province of car thieves and their ilk — has now become a favorite crime among gangs of homeless men one might see lingering at traffic intersections carrying signs that read, ‘Hungry and Homeless.’
And while these crime statistics cause many Philadelphians to wring their hands and despair at how awful everything is, the ugliness of it all never seems to amount to much in the voting booth. What do Philadelphians do? They vote to reinstate Krasner.
There has been one small sign of change, however.
In October, a Republican state lawmaker from Philadelphia introduced articles of impeachment against Krasner after a state committee investigating his office released a report blaming his policies for increased crime in the city.
“The city of Philadelphia cannot afford to wait any longer for us to take action on what we already know to be true. That Krasner is responsible for the rise in crime across our city due to his dereliction of duty to prosecute the guilty and to protect the innocent,” Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) stated in a news conference.
Krasner retaliated by filing a suit, challenging the validity of the legislative committee. News of the challenge got the attention of Newsweek, which quoted several Krasner defenders in City Council, like mayoral contender (and woke activist) Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier, who charged that the impeachment is a “baseless attempt to unseat a duly elected DA.”
This triad of woke shrills sent out an SOS stating, “We won’t stand for it. It sends out a clear message to black and brown voters that their votes don’t matter. As women of color we are no strangers to outsiders attempting to dismiss the power of our voices.”
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This pickle barrel of leftist slogans — “the power of our voices,” “black and brown voters,” etc. — is so typical of woke Philadelphia in that it turns a blind eye to the realities of crime as well as to the plight of the victims of crime.
While there have been abuses in the past when people of color were unlawfully targeted and prosecuted for crimes they didn’t commit, that era in the city is over. The pendulum is now stuck in the opposite direction: Criminals of all colors are being set free.
One need only consider the horrendous murder of Rite Aid manager Michael Richardson, a black man and a father of five, in 2003, when three black men walked into his store at 12th Street and Girard, shot him in the leg, and dragged him, bleeding, into the store office where he was forced at gunpoint to open the safe.
When the paltry sum of less than $3,000 was collected, Richardson, pleading and praying to be spared, was shot in the head execution-style by Christopher Kennedy.
At the trial one year later, Kennedy’s accomplices were given mandatory life sentences while Kennedy was charged with homicide and given the death penalty by a jury that was so affected by what they heard that they wept throughout much of the testimony.
In 2019, however, the Philadelphia DA’s Office, in response to a new sentencing hearing appeal by Kennedy’s attorney, declared that it would no longer pursue the death penalty in Kennedy’s case. Kennedy was re-sentenced to life without parole, a change that upset Richardson’s widow who wanted the death penalty for the killer of her husband, “the love of [her] life.”
The reason for the DA’s decision to no longer pursue the death penalty were testimonies from Kennedy’s friends stating that, as a child, the murderer had suffered “unimaginable abuse, neglect, abandonment and, really, torture…”
The Krasner effect strikes again.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, Frontpage Magazine and the Philadelphia Irish Edition. He is the author of fifteen books, including ”Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” “Death at Dawn: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” will be published later this year.