City of Brotherly Love?

What is the answer for Philadelphia?

With extraordinary museums, nearly unparalleled cuisine, a bottomless wealth of history and a perfect location of just a few hours’ drive from both the Big Apple and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia could very well be a world-class city.

Instead, Philadelphia is working overtime to develop a different reputation.

More than four hundred people were murdered in the City of Brotherly Love in 2007 and, while the pace this year is decidedly slower (for now), almost 70 homicides have been recorded in the first three months of 2008.

Yesterday, just before 2:30 in the afternoon, a 36-year-old Starbucks manager looking forward to his upcoming wedding was savagely beaten by four black youths on the Market-Frankford subway platform a block away from City Hall, and died less than an hour after the attack. Three of the attackers got away, but according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, 16-year-old Kinta Stanton was taken into custody and told police that he and three friends had skipped school that day and had targeted Sean Patrick Conroy at random and decided to beat him up not to rob him, but just for the hell of it.

The increase in violent crime in Philadelphia has been blamed on poverty, on racial disconnect, on guns and on government. Tonight’s local news will likely show Stanton’s 32-year-old mother or 48-year-old grandmother sobbing and telling the rest of the city how Kinta was “a good boy,” was “turning his life around,” and how he was just a victim of Philadelphia’s class warfare, or sub-standard educational system, or criminal justice system, or whatever else can be thought of in order to avoid placing blame on themselves and a community that embraces violence, “stop the snitching,” and a thug mentality.

Excuses will be made and the three remaining attackers will continue to elude police, perhaps long enough to commit further crimes and perhaps kill somebody else. With 68 homicides already in Philadelphia this year, the already-swamped police will still battle quieted witnesses and apathetic community members who wear “Stop Snitching” t-shirts while asking news cameras why police cannot stop the violence.

In the end, Sean Patrick Conroy is still dead. His fiancee will see no wedding, his family will forever have an empty seat at their dining room table, his co-workers and faithful customers will forever look at the stairs leading to the subway station and remember how he was murdered — all because some punks decided to ditch school in favor of living the thug-life dream fed to them by friends, by television, by the hip-hop culture.

What is the answer for Philadelphia?

How does a city so mired in violence and a thug mentality that its citizens actually work against police recover from an obvious lack of respect for life?

Some people think that the answer lies in tougher gun legislation.

I took this photo with my Blackberry on the way into work this morning (I was stopped at a traffic light, I swear). The only effect that tougher gun laws will have on the face of this city will be changing its elected officials. I see three distinct problems with gun laws as an answer.

First, I don’t expect those who have already resigned themselves to robbing, raping or killing somebody will pay much attention to new legislation. Those 400-plus families still grieving the loss of loved ones killed during 2007 grieve because the life of their mother, brother, father, son, or sister didn’t mean enough to spare. Last year, children were murdered, grandmothers and grandfathers were murdered, and the lives of infants even were snuffed out in cold blood because a certain segment of the population does not value or respect life at all.

The man who, after being hit with an errant snowball back in February, produced a gun and shot a kid at point-blank range on his 15th birthday obviously has no respect whatsoever for human life. The killer was hit with the snowball, went into his house, grabbed the gun, returned outside, and snuffed out that boy like he was nothing. He didn’t care about the consequences of killing that child, and I somehow doubt that he’d care about the consequences of having an illegal gun.

Enacting new, tougher gun laws does nothing but acknowledge the apathetic transfer of blame from people to inanimate objects. It blames the silverware for obesity. Guns do not go off by themselves — one of my guns could be sitting out on a park bench and, untouched, pose no threat to passing pedestrians. Somebody must pull the trigger, somebody must dismiss the moral conflict, somebody must undervalue life, and even the most strict legislation does not address that human–inhuman–element.

Secondly, passing new legislation making it more difficult for both criminals and law-abiding citizens to obtain and own firearms denys the opportunity of responsible people to protect themselves. If, for instance, only one house on a particular street does not have a “Protected by ADT” sign in the front yard and a little alarm control panel visible through the window, that house will be the first choice for someone intending to break in.

If guns are so unequivocally evil, why do the vast majority of mass killings take place in so-called “gun-free” zones, and why aren’t there more shootings at gun shows, were literally thousands of guns and millions of rounds of ammunition are within reach?

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away, and knowing that their next victim might be armed and capable may cause a criminal to think twice. Sean Patrick Conroy, thinking that his life was in danger, would have been perfectly within his legal right to draw a legally-owned and legally-carried handgun and shoot each one of his attackers dead, right there on the platform.

Instead, we’ve got a promising young man and future husband dead, and four scumbags for the taxpayers to house and feed for what hopefully will be a very long time.

Finally, all of the gun laws in the world would not have prevented Sean Patrick Conroy’s death. These punks were not armed with handguns. They simply and unconscionably chose, at random, to physically assault Conroy and essentially killed him with their bare hands.

Gun laws will not stop this thug mentality. Without a gun, they will use a knife. Without a knife, they will use their hands. In the grand scheme of things, firearms are a recent technology. Cain didn’t shoot Abel. Genghis Khan didn’t use artillery. Take away the guns, and people will still die so long as somebody else is willing to commit murder.

Others propose that “hope” is the answer.

I took this photograph at approximately 2:35 p.m. yesterday, after seeing a bunch of police officers run into the subway station that I had just passed by. At the time, I didn’t know that Sean Patrick Conroy was breathing his last only a few yards away; At the time, I only knew that something had happened, that this city was in deep, deep trouble, and that mere hope has never, ever saved a single life.

The problems that strangle this city starts from within. Kinta Stanton and his four worthless friends should have been in school yesterday, rather than on the platform at 13th & Market killing a man who worked hard every day toward dreams of success and family instead of whining for handouts and dreaming of one day being discovered by the 76ers or picked up on a record label as the next Akon.

Hope will never foster good school attendance. Hope will never convince a 15-year-old girl that she is too young to have a child. Hope will never make a good parent. Sure, we can hope beyond hope that some day, kids like Stanton and his murderous friends wake up and realize that life is worth something, but hope alone will do nothing without action, without work, without resolve.

If not tougher gun laws, if not hope, what is the answer for the City of Brotherly Love?

There is no single answer, but there are things that can be done on a number of levels.

The government can help, by putting more boots on the ground and exchanging impersonal patrol cars for walking beats. Having the police presence in the neighborhood change from a machine that stops only at traffic lights as it weaves through a particular area to a police officer with a name, a face and a story can only help to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the people. Kids used to look up to police officers, used to want to be police officers … not shoot at them.

Mostly, however, the answer lies within the people, and success absolutely, 100 percent depends upon them. The answer lies in picking ourselves up, in coming together and deciding that the steady decline in the quality of life in Philadelphia must stop, in deciding that we all should be able to walk our neighborhoods at night and our subway stations by day. We must all decide on our goal. We must all commit to achieve it, and we must then secure the means.

After-school programs, college scholarships and other social devices are all essential catalysts for the kind of transition and recovery needed so desperately by the city of Philadelphia and her people. These programs, however, cannot be forced upon people through government action and even government funding. Change cannot be mandated — it must be a product of desire, of commitment, of a yearning for a better way of life.

After-school jobs can help as well. Bi-weekly paychecks can not only help a child’s family gain extra income but can also fund the gaming consoles and the shoes and the CDs and the rims that would otherwise come from drug money or somebody else’s wallet. I had a job at a local feed and seed store and spent many days after school hauling fertilizer or doing landscaping. If local restaurants claim to have no dishwashing, bussing and kitchen jobs available, and if local businesses claim to have no need to hire warehouse personnel, perhaps we should look into enforcing our immigration laws.

If the unions would allow, perhaps the city itself could put kids to work after school. Pay them to pick up trash, to paint shabby-looking buildings, to restore pride in their communities. Working together with neighbors, working alongside city officials and police officers and with other people in the community might also work to close the divide and give the victims of violence names and faces. The people of Philadelphia are numb to the violence that grips the city — anything that can be done will only bring people closer together and make the problem more personal.

The city cannot change overnight, and no amount of rehabilitation can bring back her dead. The reasonable, responsible, God-fearing people of this city can and will take it back when they’re ready to have an honest, difficult discussion of the problems and subsequently work out and commit to solutions that will benefit everyone involved.

Philadelphia can be a world-class city, but her citizens must first prove themselves to be world-class people.



  1. shockcorridor says:

    Great column. I left Philadelphia two years ago because I could no longer suffer the nihilistic attitude of the people there. It’s a shame because it’s my home town. Went to school from kindergarten through grad school there. I finally had enough of the incompetent public sector, the taxes, the dirty trash strewn streets, and the illiterate angry jackasses that seem to be the growing majority of that town. Life is too short. Why risk making it shorter on a $3 subway ride? Frankly I think what will work is someday little pigs like Kinta Stanton are going to prey upon someone with a license to carry and they’re going to end up eating lead. Maybe that would change some attitudes. Obviously the families are not helping. Illiterate drop outs have been squeezing out illiterate drop outs by the ton in that town. Welcome to your future Philly.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Answer: Prohibit the likes of Sharpton, Jesse, Farrakhan, and local so-called “black leaders” from perpetuating the victicrat, “”white man still has his foot on our necks” rant. For God’s sake, Media, when they show up, don’t give them a podium or a microphone. Tell them they are not wanted here, and we, as a community of whites and blacks and browns, would like to grief in private and don’t need any of their self-serving self-righteous anger.

  3. Brendan says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I met Sean for the first time December 23rd of last year, when a man was brutally stabbed at the Broad and Jackson Starbucks in South Philly. Our store manager was unable to come to the store immediately after the incident, but Sean was ready to help us out at a moment’s notice that night. He kept us calm and made sure we knew we were safe, despite the violent act that had just occurred. He was level-headed and rational, yet compassionate, with us that night. And now, thanks to the violent whim-worshipping of four thugs, I will never see Sean again. You’re right to blame this terrible tragedy on the perpetrators and the death-loving culture that nurtured and supported them. But, while Sean Conroy will never see the outcome of his murder, the city of Philadelphia and the rest of the world will. It is my hope that these four young men are sentenced harshly and shown the same amount of compassion and empathy that they had shown to Sean. I also hope that this horrific event galvanizes the citizens of Philadelphia who love their lives and communities to stand up and fight against this tide of envious, mindless hate. We really have no choice otherwise, because it is our lives on the line.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been in CC Philly for a year, and this is, by far, the worst place I have every lived. Not because Independence Hall is a block away. Not because the parks aren’t beautiful. And not because the food isn’t good. Your article hit the nail on the head. I am scared to death — and for good reason — when I see 3 or more black youth walking together anywhere near me. I try to get as far away from them as I can. And I was a schoolteacher who loved all of my students, black, white, and Hispanic. I love my black co-workers. But these uncontrolled, angry kids are running this town. They are littering everywhere and generally making the place unliveable. It’s too bad that decent, respectable black youth are lumped in with them. But generally speaking, black society is in shambles. The educated and elite blacks want nothing to do with the blacks that are out there waiting to pounce. And it’s an illusion to say that their target is other black people. That happens, of course, but when they attack people they don’t know, it’s whites and Hispanics they choose. We all knew this is the case, and the studies proved it. Even most black youth working in fast food and stores that I encounter treat whites with contempt. Go into the McDonalds in the Gallery Mall or the SuperFresh on South Street if you want to see it in action. And I suspect that many blacks just think that turnabout is fair play (for my ancestor’s behavior in the past). Well, if you had a job to offer, would you offer it to an angry black youth? And if you had a dollar to spend, would you go to the store where they work? I avoid them now. (Don’t think I hold that the whites are any fundamentally better — Philly seems to breed a very bitter, lazy type, in all races. Other cities don’t hold a candle.)

  5. Anonymous says:

    This was a very insightful and great article.. but i just know that from reading the comments above. But that was an extremely racist comment you made about his 32 year old mother or 43 year old grandmother. Its racist son of a bitch bastards that make me fucking sick to my White American soul. I hope you get jumped by some 16 year old mothers and 29 year old grandmothers and they kill your ignorant ass. Why are people like this allowed to write to the public you racist pussy.

  6. Jeff Schreiber says:

    What, may I ask, was so racist about saying that this murderer had a 32-year-old mother and 48-year-old grandmother?

    It isn’t just in the black community where kids are having kids, my friend. It’s a problem throughout.

    You know, we need to somehow quit this mentality that automatically turns everything into racism. It is 100 percent accurate that the African-American community in Philadelphia has a problem with violent crime. The statistics don’t lie.

    It is NOT, however, a “black” problem or a “white” problem. It is a problem for everyone. It is up to society as a whole to decide that lives are not meaningless, that police and not criminals should be given the benefit of the doubt.

    And yes, it comes down to parenting, and parents of all races need to be capable of raising their children.

    You’re obviously a white guy–you said as much–and so am I. Were YOU ready to raise a child at seventeen? Eighteen? I know I wasn’t.

    Step back for a moment and look at the message as a whole. It’s not about black or white — it’s about people of all shapes, sizes and colors taking responsibility for the darkness that has befallen this city.

  7. Gail B says:

    The liberal Dems are about to bring gun control up again. (It’s now April 11, 2009.) Please put a link to this article if you write another one for the 2009 “fight.”


Speak Your Mind