A triple homicide is hardly occasion for a family reunion, but it did prompt three generations of grieving relatives to pull plastic chairs around the freshly hosed-down crime scene on North Sixth Street on Thursday and gripe about guns.
"It's easier to get a gun than an education," lamented Denise Wheeler, cousin of two of the three young men shot to death in the Ludlow section of North Philadelphia.
And anyone who tries to tell you the problem isn't guns has forgotten the days when kids fought with fists and lived to let live.
Last week, eight people were blown away in just over 24 hours.
The one-day death toll included the criminal equivalent of hitting for the cycle: an unidentified man shot to death in West Philadelphia; a double homicide in Kensington; and the triple murder in Ludlow.
It was only 11 a.m. when we met, and Wheeler figured it wouldn't be long before another hothead pulled a trigger in another neighborhood.
"It's not the first, and it's not the last. When you all are done here," she said, gesturing to journalists, "you'll go see some other family."
Go with the flow?
It's one thing for a guy who survived a shooting to shrug it off. But what to make of the life-goes-on mentality about all this death in official circles?
Outrage is seasonal, rising with the temperature and whenever an election is near.
In between, the prospect of 500 homicides a year is the latest fact of life to be taken for granted in the nation's fifth-largest city.
In a recent story about personal squabbles roiling the Police Department, my colleague Robert Moran elicited a telling aside from Commissioner Sylvester Johnson:
"I can't wait for these seven months to be over."
So the city's top cop is counting the seconds until retirement, when the body bags become someone else's problem?
Mayor Street has publicly pleaded for stronger state gun laws and toured neighborhoods talking about the violence.
Yet last week, he beamed while accepting a plaque from the Philadelphia Safe and Sound organization after unveiling a report saying 179 young people between 7 and 24 were murdered last year - the most in a decade.
Street's likely successor, Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter, backs a stop-and-frisk plan to keep guns off the street.
Street and Johnson, naturally, think that's a terrible idea. Cops openly dismiss it.
We already do that, they say.
And it's not working.
Cease and desist
So try harder, or try something else. It wasn't always like this, so it doesn't have to stay this way, say the relatives of Bruce Burman, 23; Bobby Lundy, 25; and Sean White, 19, killed in that triple homicide.
"When it hits home," said Burman's godmother, Marcia Green, "it hits hard."
Two of the three victims had actually survived previous shootings.
White had a bullet lodged in his chest after being robbed while walking near Fifth and Diamond three months ago, his mother, Lynnette White, told me.
When he left the house the night he was killed, she said what every mother says no matter where she lives: "You be safe."
These days, that seems impossible in some zip codes.
In the end, Burman's and Lundy's cousin Theresa Wheeler said, it doesn't matter how hard she works at her nursing job or how strict she is with her kids if every time they dare to leave the house they risk running into a guy with a Glock and a grudge.
"How can you live," she asked, "if you're so afraid of death?"
Monica Yant Kinney |
Of the 195 people killed in the city this year, 88 percent were shot to death. View interactive maps with sortable data on homicides and shootings at http://go.philly.com/violence
Contact Monica Yant Kinney
at 215-854-4670 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/yantkinney