School shooting fuels church appeal "The real tragedy comes when neighbors, all of us, are apathetic," a North Philadelphia pastor said.

Posted: February 16, 2004

They are the type of people who might someday save this neighborhood: hardworking, God-fearing North Philadelphians, filling the pews of a church two blocks from where a 10-year-old boy was shot on his way to school last week.

And so Bishop R.T. Jones gripped the microphone, stood with his back to the altar, and put the question to them straight:

"A kid was shot in broad daylight going to school," Jones said. "Now, what are we going to do about it?"

The silence that followed spoke volumes about the challenges that Jones, 61, a former Philadelphia police officer, faces as the pastor of Christian Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, a large Baptist congregation at 22d and Clearfield Streets, in the heart of a neighborhood accustomed to gunplay and tragedy.

Yesterday, in a videotaped statement, one of two suspects admitted to participating in the 94-bullet gun battle that erupted in front of T.M. Peirce Elementary School on Wednesday, according to police sources.

Kennell Spady, 19, and Kareem Johnson, 20, both of Philadelphia, have been charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault and were held at Police Headquarters.

Third grader Faheem Thomas-Childs suffered a gunshot wound to the face. Last night, he remained unconscious and on life support at Temple University's Children's Medical Center. A crossing guard, Debra Smith, 56, also was injured.

Police say they found shells from six guns in the shootout between two warring factions in the neighborhood, and they have offered a $75,000 reward, police protection, and even family relocation to witnesses willing to come forward.

But news of the two arrests failed to buoy Jones and some in his congregation, who are again confronting the fact that toughs with guns hold much of the power on these blocks.

"Relieved? Should I be relieved?" Jones asked of the arrests. "That's two out of 102. For every one you arrest, you've got 10 more behind him. It's a trend in our nation, and it's not going to stop until we find a way to get the guns off the street."

Even after the shooting and with increased police presence, the neighborhood has been far from quiet:

About 11 p.m. Saturday, Philadelphia police said, a man rammed his car into a police cruiser near the school, at 23d and Cambria Streets, forcing the cruiser to strike a second police vehicle. He then fired three shots through the cruiser's window, missing the officers. A suspect, whom police did not name, was arrested in the 3600 block of North 22d Street. Fifty packets of heroin and a .40-caliber Glock handgun were confiscated.

Even young children in the congregation recognized Faheem's shooting as just one of many.

"I feel angry, because the man hurt [Faheem], and he is in the hospital," Dante Lynch, 11, said. "There are gunshots, especially on my block. People argue on my block. Every time they argue, I hear gunshots."

And so Jones, who keeps a gun in his house for protection, devoted only a small part of his hourlong sermon to Faheem.

Instead, he railed against what he calls the "real tragedy" behind the bullet that struck Faheem in the head: a complex of problems, stemming from factors ranging from guns and joblessness to selfish parents and disrespectful children.

"I want to help you to live. I want your children to live and not be afraid," he told parishioners. "In every city in America, you can always tell when you get to the poor black community. Trash, boarded-up buildings. They all look the same.

"I don't know how many times we've been emancipated," Jones said. "We're still not free.

"When this government . . . allows industry and business to go outside the country, it's no wonder our young folks can't find jobs. They're all in Taiwan. When you've got a family and a wife and two or three children, $5.50 an hour working at Popeye's ain't gonna cut it.

"We don't own the Targets or the Wal-Marts. . . . We don't even own the corner stores," Jones said, later adding a personal note: "And I've got a granddaughter that can curse like a sailor.

"The real tragedy comes when neighbors, all of us, are apathetic."

Afterward, the parishioners Jones had worked so hard to motivate filed out into the brisk, bright afternoon.

"Oh, yes, I am not going to give up hope," said Cindia Bost, 44, who called for more pressure on police, politicians and residents to return peace and civility to Philadelphia streets.

Bost, however, moved out of North Philadelphia to Cheltenham three years ago.

Her husband is a police officer, Bost said, and it was unsafe for his family to live in a neighborhood populated by so many of the suspects he was arresting.

Contact staff writer Matt Blanchard at 610-313-8120 or

To Help

Authorities ask anyone with information to contact the Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334, the district's safe-schools hotline at 215-299-7233, or the Citizens Crime Commission Tipline at 215-546-8477.

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