Amid rising violence, a look inside the possible return of stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia
Philadelphia endured more than 560 homicides last year, a record high.
“There are places in the city where people are afraid for their own lives every day, afraid for lives of their children, of their neighbors,” Sammy Caiola, gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY, says.
“And people are starting to see it as inevitable, just part of the fabric of being a Philadelphian.”
Now, some city officials are calling for the return of a controversial policing tactic: stop-and-frisk.
Today, On Point: Can a stop and frisk that doesn’t violate civil rights exist? What would it look like? And would it work for Philadelphia?
Shira Scheindlin, former judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Since retiring in 2016, she’s been serving as a private arbitrator, mediator and special master.
Councilman Isaiah Thomas, at-large member of Philadelphia City Council. Chair of the Streets Committee and Vice Chair of the Children and Youth Committee.
Tyrique Glasgow, founder of the Young Chances Foundation. A gun violence survivor.
TYRIQUE GLASGOW: I remember when my uncle was murdered. And it was an early morning. And I was at my grandmother’s house, and I remember hearing her scream. I never heard my grandma voice like that ever in my life.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique Glasgow was eight years old when his uncle was murdered in Philadelphia. Tyrique was raised by his grandmother, a woman of faith. He says she prayed for strangers as much as she prayed for her own daughter.
GLASGOW: My grandma raised us in the church, and every time I would hear her voice, it was a song. … Her acknowledging, sometimes testifying to some of the trials and tribulations that she’d been through, that our family went through, that she just wanted us to overcome. This sound was different. The sound wasn’t about bringing hope. … She was looking for something and it wasn’t there.
… I never really got it. Until I grew up, and I understood he was killed in front of his door. He was shot multiple times. And for her, that was a boy. All I remember her saying was, Why?
CHAKRABARTI: That was 1992. Even then, violence wasn’t new in Tyrique’s Philly neighborhood, and it certainly wasn’t new to his family. Three of Tyrique’s cousins had been killed in just 115 month period. Tyrique eventually got pulled into the violence, too. He began selling drugs at 15, and after graduating high school, he made the streets his home.
GLASGOW: I really didn’t have the safety net, best safe place for myself to go to. So I went out and I tried to find it in the streets. I was good with numbers. I was good with dealing with people. I knew how to connect. And I grew up around a lot of influential Italians, and people in our community who had those connections in the streets.
CHAKRABARTI: On May 1st, 2004, Tyrique got a phone call. Someone told him his sister was involved in a fight. By the time he got there, the crowd had scattered. But later that day:
GLASGOW: I see one of the individuals walking down the street. And for me, I was still in, you know, I could fight. So I got out of the car and I wanted to fight and I was shot.
CHAKRABARTI: He was shot 11 times. Shot in the leg and arms. In his back, in his head. Tyrique spent six days in the hospital. And yes, having scars from 11 bullet holes in his body humbled him.
GLASGOW: But there’s also a badge of honor when you’re in the streets and get shot and to come back, so to say.
CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique says growing up, it was impossible to hear anything beyond the siren song of that violent street culture. The only thing that cut through it for him was prison. In 2007, he was convicted of manufacturing and dealing drugs. Tyrique was sentenced to five years.
GLASGOW: When I was in jail, it really woke me up. Because when you’re out and you’re out in the street … you think that everything is reality. … You think that you’re doing everything right. You think you’re doing stuff to benefit the welfare of your family. The welfare of yourself. When in reality, it’s a nightmare. When I went to jail, it was like God gave me a reset. Like … take this as a time out. You’re getting shot. You’re being arrested six, seven times. It’s violence going on. You’re losing family members left and right. I’m going to sit you down, because I understand. I have a bigger purpose.
CHAKRABARTI: Tyrique was released from prison in 2012. That same year, he founded the Young Chances Foundation to help at-risk youth in South Philadelphia. Around that same time, Philly’s homicide rate actually began trending down. From 2013 to roughly 2017, the city recorded its lowest homicide rates in decades. But then the numbers began to rise. Last year, Philadelphia recorded its highest homicide rate ever, 562 murders. Tyrique Glasgow says fear is spreading across the entire community.
GLASGOW: Our three main people is our children, our seniors and our community at whole. If a child can’t walk to school without being murdered, it’s a problem. … It’s a concern when our seniors can’t go to the supermarket to shop in peace, and to have a good day without being assaulted, robbed or even shot. These are the things that challenge us every day in our community. … I have never met a person who said, I want to live like this. I want to live in violence.
No, they want their kids to go to good schools. They want to have a good job. They want to want to have a home that they could come to that’s taken care of. That’s not around gun violence, or hearing gunshots or three-year-old’s being murdered. Or kids walking to school being shot. Those are not the stories that you hear. The story is, I just want to get my kids out of here. I just want these young boys to stop it. I don’t know what’s gotten into these young girls. These are the concerns that you hear every day.
CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. And that was Tyrique Glasgow, founder of the Young Chances Foundation. Now, last year, as homicides soared, Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Michael Krasner told reporters, quote, We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness. We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence. End quote.
Well, that drew a scathing response from Philly’s former mayor, Democrat Michael Nutter. He said, quote, I have to wonder what kind of messed up world of white wokeness Krasner is living in, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney.
That’s what Nutter wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. And he went on saying, If he actually cared about Philadelphia’s Black and brown communities, he’d understand that the homicide crisis is what is plaguing us the most. End quote.
In fact, Black Philadelphians are the majority of homicide victims in Philadelphia. Of the 562 people killed there last year, 80% were Black. 70% of all Philly’s homicide victims over a 30 year period were Black, though they make up slightly more than 40% of the city’s population. Philadelphia is on track to have a similarly deadly year this year. That’s led some elected leaders to resurrect a highly controversial idea. Earlier this month, City Council President Darrell Clarke suggested bringing back a version of the policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk.
DARRELL CLARKE [Tape]: There are a lot of citizens in the streets of the city of Philadelphia to talk about, when are we going to look at stop-and-frisk in a constitutionally enacted way?
CHAKRABARTI: A constitutionally enacted stop-and-frisk. That’s what we’re going to look at today. What exactly does that mean? What would it look like in practice? Can a constitutional stop and frisk even exist? Critics say no. They say any version of the tactic is a fundamental violation of civil rights. Well, let’s start with Sammy Caiola. She’s the gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY in Philadelphia. Sammy, welcome to On Point.
SAMMY CAIOLA: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, tell me, what are lifelong Philadelphians whom you’ve spoken with telling you about the amount of gun violence, the number of homicides the city experienced last year?
CAIOLA: I’ve done a lot of listening in communities that are highly impacted by gun violence. And I want to be clear. These are neighborhoods sort of scattered across the city that have been disinvested in. They’ve seen real declines in just the state of the environment where they live. And it’s corresponded with the rise in shootings. And they say it’s been a drastic change over the last decade. They used to feel safe. They used to go out. They used to gather. Their children used to, you know, run free around the neighborhood.
And now there is a much more felt state of fear. And that makes sense. Looking at the numbers, you know, there’s been an almost doubling of homicides since, you know, the 2017 period. You know, last year was a record year. And we’re seeing, you know, more than a homicide a day. Something like 1.5 homicides a day in Philadelphia. So it’s just part of life for some people. There is really no sense of safety for them. And I think that’s the context for these conversations about the role of policing, and the role of local government. And how do you help people feel able to navigate their own neighborhoods at this point?
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, so it sounds like it’s very much having an impact across the city in just people being able to live their daily lives. I’m looking here at a map from the Office of the Comptroller in Philadelphia that’s got a city map that’s tracking all shootings, not just homicides, but all shootings. And they are in various neighborhoods across the city. But it also seems as if the violence is particularly concentrated in certain neighborhoods. … What neighborhoods are they? Are they predominantly Black neighborhoods?
CAIOLA: Yes, these are predominantly Black neighborhoods with lower median incomes than the rest of the city. And, you know, that’s where we see the concentration of shootings. But I think as time goes on, we’re seeing this problem bleed out. We see shootings in outskirt neighborhoods. We see shootings in suburbs. You know, and it’s to the point where it’s happening at large public events.
And it’s just kind of a ripple. You know, it’s the trauma and the fear and the stress of this that is affecting really anybody who lives here. And, you know, for every person that is shot, they’ve got loved ones, they’ve got friends, they’ve got neighbors. You know, every bullet kind of creates this circle of secondary victims. And it’s, you know, in many of the neighborhoods you’re mentioning, you won’t find somebody who has not been touched by gun violence.
Wow. We’ve got about 30 seconds before our first break. Sammy, can you just quickly tell me, do people in Philadelphia, particularly in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, do they feel like city leadership right now is doing enough?
CAIOLA: Largely, I would say no. I’ve heard people tell me they feel like the city has put their hands up, that they feel their neighborhoods have been abandoned. And that’s everything from, you know, garbage not being picked up, to abandoned vehicles on the streets, to police not having great community relations there. They’d like to see more community policing, police walking the streets, meeting the neighbors. They want to feel that the city cares about them, and is treating this urgently.
CHAKRABARTI: Sammy, hang on. I’ve got another question for you, but we’ll do that after the break. This is On Point.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.