Chester City mayor plans to ask for curfew extension

Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. getsa hug from Chester resident Joni Williams for the curfew he imposed.
Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. getsa hug from Chester resident Joni Williams for the curfew he imposed.
Posted: June 21, 2010

Wendell N. Butler Jr. leaned back in a lawn chair Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park pool in Chester, looking surprisingly relaxed for a mayor who had responded to a spate of murders by declaring a state of emergency in the impoverished city.

Four homicides in eight days, one of them a toddler, prompted Butler on Saturday to impose a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in five areas of the four-square-mile city where violence has flared, including the park.

Butler also ordered increased police patrols, with the help of state troopers and Delaware County sheriff's officers. On Wednesday, he will ask the City Council to extend the emergency order for 30 days.

"I wouldn't be surprised if somebody has an issue" with the order, Butler said over the sound of splashing, squealing children. "When you're in any leadership role, you're going to be damned if you do and damned if you don't."

But reaction to the nighttime restrictions was overwhelmingly positive, at least at the pool, where Joni Williams of Third Street even hugged Butler to thank him.

"We're pleased with it," said Hassan Patterson, founder of Men Are the Protectors of Women and Children, a nonprofit mentoring organization, who was lingering at the pool entrance.

Eric Jones, adult program supervisor for the city, praised the mayor for taking action, and speculated that the violence reflected the underlying economic problems of the city. Census data show 27 percent of the 36,000 residents live in poverty, compared with 11 percent for all of Pennsylvania.

"The city is building back up, but still we've got to find a way to get jobs," Jones said. "We need summer jobs. Where did those programs go?"

Butler, 66, a former police chief, said finding a permanent fix would be difficult.

"As my friend Sylvester Johnson said, 'You can't arrest your way out of this,' " Butler said, referring to a former Philadelphia police commissioner. "It's going to take government, the community, the religious community - all of us have to work on it."

Last year, Chester had 14 homicides; in 2008, there were 19. This year, there have been 11.

But the sudden outbreak - and the nature of one attack - has jarred the city. Eight days ago, a gunman ambushed a man and his family around 2:30 a.m. as they returned to their home in a public housing development. After the family ran inside, the gunman shot through the door. Terrence Webster, 2, died when a bullet hit him in the forehead; his father, Thomas, and mother, Tisheta Green, were wounded, according to police.

In response, more than 300 people attended a community rally against violence Thursday.

The state of emergency has already caused a minor disruption. On Sunday, neighboring Chester Township canceled the morning Father's Day parade, which annually gathers at Veterans Memorial Park.

"That was their call," Butler said. "Some of our problems cross over our borders."

Butler said he was confident that the City Council would extend the nighttime restrictions for 30 days, but he couldn't say whether an exception might be made for July Fourth festivities and fireworks in Chester Park.

"I'll have to get the views of City Council," he said.

The five places where no one is allowed on the street "without a legitimate reason" from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. are west of Lamokin Street to the city's boundary; the area bounded by Ninth Street, Morton Avenue, and the city's eastern boundary; the area bounded by Edgmont Avenue and Upland Street between 20th Street and 2701 Madison St.; the area bounded by Crosby Street and the border with Upland Borough; and the area bounded by Penn, Parker, Third. and Sixth Streets.

Chester's new PPL Park, near the Commodore Barry Bridge, is not near the restricted areas. It is scheduled to host the Philadelphia Union soccer team's long-awaited first game there Sunday against the Seattle Sounders.


Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or mmccullough@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|