Murder City

Is Philadelphia possibly a place where "very bad things" do in fact happen?

Bullets
Poverty shouldn’t be reason Philadelphians are senselessly killing each other. | Image provided

I met a woman who liked being mostly housebound during the COVID-19 epidemic.

“I don’t want to be walking the streets while all these murders are going on,” the woman told me. “Philadelphia has become ‘Murder City.’”

Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in the city for many years, I’ve been on the scene shortly after a number of murders were committed, from robbery-related murders, to juvenile gang killings, to mob hits in South Philly. I’ve interviewed homicide detectives at the Roundhouse, and I’ve observed homicide detectives as they investigated murders. I’ve seen murder victims up close and I’ve witnessed the look of shock, sadness and grief on the faces of the murder victims’ loved ones. 

I recall in particular one sad, sex-related murder some years ago of a young woman in her Center City apartment. I had been out on a ride-along with a sergeant when the two responding officers called their supervisor to report finding the body. The older, more experienced sergeant took charge when we entered the apartment, as the young patrolmen were somewhat shaken, as this was their first encounter with a murder victim. I suspect this was not their last.       

As of Oct. 27, there have been 400 homicides committed in Philadelphia. Contrast that with the 275 homicides committed at this point in 2019, as well as the total number of 356 homicides committed in 2019. One homicide is one too many, and 400 homicides are way too many.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle M. Outlaw announced her Crime Prevention and Violence Action Plan back in June. One of the key features of the plan is for the police to work closely with the District Attorney’s office.

“The plan reflects the value and necessity of sustained collaboration among law enforcement partners,” Commissioner Outlaw stated in a press release.

“Poverty is never an excuse for violent crime, and certainly not for murder.”

She stated that a key component of her plan was working with Philadelphia District Larry Krasner, who will be assigning two assistant district attorneys to each of the six geographic police divisions. She further stated that the prosecutors will work alongside the investigators in responding to and investigating violent crimes, especially those crimes that involve a firearm.

And there’s the rub, according to several serving and retired cops that I’ve spoken to. These cops, and many others, believe that Krasner is the problem, not the solution. 

As a former defense attorney who sued the Police Department 75 times and has represented pro-bono, anti-police groups such as ACT UP and Black Lives Matter, Krasner is seen by many to be more sympathetic to criminals than cops. Krasner was opposed by many police officers in the last election and many distrust him even more today. John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order Police, Lodge 5, stated that Krasner was working hard to push forward his “anti-police agenda” by prosecuting cops.

One police officer I spoke to noted that with the mayor and DA releasing most of the people arrested during the looting and riots following George Floyd’s murder, practically the only people being prosecuted are police officers. The cop I spoke to suspects the prosecutors who will be assigned to the police will be looking for cop scalps, and not for illegal gun-toting murderers.

Back in August, William McSwain, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney, held a press conference and spoke of the escalating violent crime occurring in Philadelphia. 

“All of the cops that I’ve spoken to believe that the DA should prosecute violent criminals and murderers and not make sweetheart deals or simply drop the charges. These police officers tell me that until violent criminals are taken off the street, the murder rate will only go up and up.”

“Homicides, shootings, and serious violent crime have all skyrocketed in 2020 – from already intolerable levels that existed in 2019 and 2018,” McSwain said. “Almost all the victims are racial minorities, the vast majority of whom are black. This past weekend alone, at least 25 people were shot. So far this year, over 100 children have been shot, a 68 percent increase as compared to last year. Again, almost all of these child victims are racial minorities, the vast majority of whom are black.” 

McSwain, a frequent Krasner critic, said the violence has largely been met with indifference, a sense of inevitability, and even a shrug of the shoulders. He noted that Krasner has said that “poverty equals bullets.” McSwain said this condescending statement was “a slap in the face to every law-abiding, low-income resident in the city who respect the law, never shoot anybody, love their neighbors, and work hard to improve their neighborhood. 

“Poverty is never an excuse for violent crime, and certainly not for murder.”  

All of the cops that I’ve spoken to believe that the DA should prosecute violent criminals and murderers and not make sweetheart deals or simply drop the charges. These police officers tell me that until violent criminals are taken off the street, the murder rate will only go up and up.

Paul Davis can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com. 

  • Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has been on the scene shortly after a number of murders were committed, from robbery-related murders to juvenile gang killings, to mob hits in South Philly. He’s interviewed homicide detectives at the Roundhouse and observed homicide detectives as they investigated […]