239 Chestnut Street which burned into a crisp in Old City has an interesting new development: a criminal investigation.
A source close to the building has relayed to Philadelinquency that the ATF has identified a person of interest related to the fire investigation. Investigators have been reviewing security camera footage around the 200 block of Chestnut Street to ascertain where the suspect was moments prior to the fire. Police have privately relayed to close residents that the fire was deliberately set.
At a police-to-community relations meeting held late Wednesday, residents who attended were given a bit more detail about how the fire transpired. The fire began in the basement underneath the B Side Diner. From there, it spread laterally from basement to basement and up to the ground floor, racing its way up vents and openings between floors.
Any time there is a suspicious fire in Philadelphia where the circumstances are peculiar, the ATF is called. Fire inspectors examining the structures could not pin down any fault with maintenance of the buildings to be the root cause of the fire.
John E. Sheerin, 63, a former Philadelphia public school teacher was arrested last year for threatening police officers during protests sparked by social media posts from Councilwoman Helen Gym demanding a statue of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo to be removed. That episode was captured on video by Inquirer reporter Helen Urbiñas.
In a move that comes as a complete surprise to nobody, the DA’s office has quietly withdrawn the charges of terroristic threats and harassment.
How was that achieved, you ask?
Easy. A series of interesting delays occurred that punted the scheduled trial date out, which was scheduled for January after a series of other delays. Getting a delayed date would ensure that a DA’s office under the assertive control of Krasner would be handling it.
And like magic the “new-and-improved” DA sees no reason to bring a trial with video evidence before a court for it to decide.
Things were not so lucky for Sheerin’s son, Christopher Sheerin. He was arrested earlier that same year for assault–also captured on video–during a Trump tax protest. He worked a deal with prosecutors and was given ARD probation with a goal of clearing his criminal record.
City Council’s legislative session is derailed today thanks to Councilwoman City Bass and her ridiculous bill (text of the bill here) that still leaves open the ability for the City of Philadelphia to harass Asian beer deli owners who have plexiglass up in their stores.
The public comment period started off with a South Philadelphia Vietnamese business owner who doesn’t have plexiglass up inside her store, who lost her son to a robbery and was shot dead. A succession of public commenters including minsters appeared to put weight on Councilwoman Bass to delete section (g) of her bill.
Update 3PM: After over 30 minutes of city council members trying to save face and dance around Section (g) of the beer deli bill, City Council voted to pass the bill on a vote of 14-3.
City Council altered the beer deli restroom bill to order L&I to come up with regulations on *when* beer delis are to take down their plexiglass. L&I will now be charged with coming up with regulations to determine when Asian beer deli owners must take down their safety glass.
Councilman David Oh mentioned in his testimony against the bill that the L&I Commissioner had already testified to City Council that he thought the plexiglass was already illegal under Title 14, the zoning code.
This basically means beer delis, which are mostly Asian-American owned, are going to be faced with the threat of being ordered to remove their glass over the next 3 years as the Department of Licenses and Inspections comes up with regulations over safety glass.
There is a hidden expectation that Councilwoman Bass pushed to leave Section (g) in the bill as a dark cloud to hold over beer delis. If it gets to the point where the City takes Asian-American business owners to court to order them to pull their glass down, expect this drama to come back up in a big way in the future, likely putting the Kenney Administration in a bind on national television as the controversy leaves the city limits.
Only time will tell if the City truly intends to be this stupid.
Sheerin has appeared lately at several protests involving the Philadelphia chapter of Black Lives Matter, which is primarily the work of activist Asa Khalif, including a disruption last Thursday’s session of Philadelphia City Council and a protest in front of the home of Philadelphia police officer Ryan Pownall, who is presently under an investigation for the police shooting of David Jones.
Bilal’s presser relaying the complaints she has received is completely justified and welcome. But the PPD is so problematic that even Bilal herself has scandal attached her. She was caught double-dipping for a bankrupt boro just outside Philadelphia.
In this piece by Ernest Owens, he calls out some terrible remarks by FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby at a rally held at FOP headquarters. This was an unforced error on McNesby’s part, due to the antics of Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif holding a flash protest in front of a police officer’s home. He then goes further and opens an umbrella over all politicians who have accepted FOP support recently.
Even if McNesby was able to get 2,000 people to attend his rally, one sentence uttered into a microphone helped dig the grave of public trust just a few feet deeper that night. Police reform activists now have everything they need to justify their activism.
The Philadelphia Police Department is driven into a corner and it’s mostly by its own making.
Progressive Democrats nationwide have staged a war on police in a quest to change policing culture. The most successful aspect of that campaign is to push police unions out of politics. Benevolent associations and police municipal unions are nearly completely disassociated from Democratic Party politics and have been booted from influence within Philadelphia. It has raised the profile of progressive influence over traditional political machines.
Outside of Philadelphia in Trump Country it’s had the polar opposite effect. Police unions of all types have become Republican backers. It can be argued that if it wasn’t for their financial support and large number of friends and family members and associative networks, Trump would not have had the support he needed to become president.
That’s not to say that activists aren’t making mistakes. They just blew a huge opportunity to get any police reform done and for that we’ll have three years of purgatory ahead of us until the next police contract.
Imagine a Philadelphia where public trust in policing is so eroded that everyday Philadelphians turn inimical towards cops. If we aren’t already at that point, we’re just one step away from it. If you take Owens’ advice, any candidate for office who accepts FOP money is toxic waste. That would include Mayor Kenney, who the FOP backed in 2015.
Progressives are certainly excited over the candidate for District Attorney Larry Krasner who capitalized on his bad relationship with police as a selling point of his campaign. If successful beyond the DA’s race, the replacement of pols with moderate temperament in between the debate on police reform could be switched out for folks who are inimical to police in general. That may produce reform or it could trigger a disastrous backlash. I’ll explain.
You still need cops to have a safe neighborhood
A lot of Philadelphians firmly believe a falsehood that crime is just some random bullshit that happens to you and neither you nor anyone else has much if any control over it. While it certainly feels that way, the city has been enjoying a long period of crime levels slowly decreasing thanks in part to redevelopment efforts and community engagement.
This war that progressives have chosen to wage against cops is not going to be free of consequences. Police certainly do not have to engage neighborhoods. “Community policing,” as it is known, is the idea that residents in police districts can become partners with police brass to help solve crimes and dissuade others from happening. I don’t see how the Philadelphia Police will be able to have successful community engagement in neighborhoods where nearly everyone hates them and distrust is so thick you can taste it.
I am a firm believer community policing works because my own neighborhood I live in is deeply engaged with police and has constant contact with it whereas a decade ago it did not. When combined with the effects of gentrification, violative crimes have been cut by half.
The worst thing that could happen to communities who do have a close relationship with police is to degrade to what police call a “radio district”, where patrols are thin and cops only respond to incidents assigned by dispatchers in a queue.
This was the Philadelphia of the 1980s and 90s where high levels of crime gave black and brown people only one option to deal with it: leave. The mass depopulation of North Philadelphia is a living testament to it.
Swaths of the city are already radio-only in a city where we’re always short of resources. If cops themselves decide that disengagement is preferable to get through a shift and community engagement is no longer worth the trouble we will all take a hit.
The mayor and City Council have been completely ineffective at pushing for police reform. They will also be inert at the response to rising levels of crime. Just as they were when crime levels in Philadelphia were intolerably high.
Lifetime Philadelphia residents remember this period all too well. If you’re a police reform activist I suggest you make the most of this period as best you can. If crime levels turn in the opposite direction, support for your work can rapidly erode and more residents will be forced into picking sides, and they’ll side with cops.
As the heroin crisis continues to grow, one of the ideas that is really easy to implement is being pushed to the wayside: safe injection sites.
Safe injection sites are simply a room with a nurse–ready to dispense Narcan if need be. An opioid addict goes there, and brings their own drugs–THE GOVERNMENT DOESN’T SUPPLY THEM HEROIN, YOU STUPID JACKASS–and self-medicates. If an overdose is going to occur it will generally be a short while after they’ve injected, where they go sit down. If they collapse on the floor, rescue begins.
The purpose of a safe injection room is simple: cut down the overdose rate.
“But but but… it’s illegal!!!” Yes, you are correct oh wise one. Drug abuse is illegal. How do safe injection sites fit into that? Simple. The Pennsylvania criminal statute has to be amended to place a legal safe zone around designated safe injection facilities. People taking an opioid in a medical setting is not a crime; and likewise it won’t be inside a safe injection facility.
And no, safe injection clinics aren’t coming to your neighborhood. The only place where they’re really needed in the city badly are in places most of you dear readers don’t live in, and that includes the lower Northeast. We’re talking D and Cambria, where most of your neighbors in the Northeast are going to when they come to Kensington to buy the shit. If your house price is more than $100K you won’t ever be seeing one of these.
The only place where safe injection facilities have been in operation for a while is in Vancouver–a city that’s generally doing a lot better off than Philadelphia is. It’s got a heroin epidemic like we have. The opioid overdose death rate has been slashed thanks to safe injection sites. Out of all the regular users of safe rooms there have been no fatal overdose deaths. The mortality rate is cut among opioid users who use safe injection sites but not routinely. Safe injection facilities also help control the spread of diseases like hepatitis which is common amongst IV drug users.
But I hear ya. You want junkies to die because you hate them. Each time a junkie ODs and is treated by rescue it’s costing taxpayers over $2,000 each visit. It’s also draining Fire Rescue services so badly it’s cutting into response times generally for everyone else–so if your grandma slips and falls down the stairs, she’s gonna be sitting there screaming for a while, perhaps over half an hour, because all the units are out.
But hey–maybe your neighbor’s daughter will finally die from pills, right? What a nice Christian soul you are.
Directly next to Huntingdon Station on the Market-Frankford Line sits a sign that one small corner of Kensington, a section of the city that’s seen nothing but economic depression since the late 1970s is about to turn. Houses are being built there. They are directly next to the EL.
Only one stop further down the line is Somerset Station, the notorious home of the East Coast’s largest opioid supermarket.
Greeting you when you exit the station at the foot of the staircase is a dealer or a hustler, trying to make some coin so he can walk the two blocks from there to the front of Episcopal Hospital where he can score the next bag. Off in the distance you’ll hear fire sirens as another rescue unit makes its way to yet another call for an overdose. Just a few blocks away on York Street a junkie OD’d at the foot of yet another new construction site for a brand new home.
Travel around Huntingdon Station and you’ll encounter one of the busier areas for prostitution in the city. All the girls who work Kensington and Sergeant and at Jasper and Sergeant Street are working to buy drugs. The dealers they buy from are not far away. Only a few of those dealers actually live nearby. Most of them can’t afford to live there. Violent crime in East Kensington, while always low to begin with, has dropped further. So has vice crime other than prostitution. The same is true with an even stronger effect in Point Breeze where violent crime began a steady march downward after 2004.
We’ve now come to an irony and a harshly politically-incorrect thing to say: Kensington’s way out of the heroin crisis looks to only have one path: gentrification.
You’re thinking is ‘that’s not a cure, that’s just pushing the problem somewhere else.’ And you’re right. Still, it’s the only way out–for Kensington.
The opioid crisis has deepened to such a point there likely won’t ever be resources that can tackle the large population that’s been affected by it. The current rough estimate for the number of opioid abusers in Philadelphia alone is around 70,000 people. The existing provider network in the City has had no effect chipping away at a problem that amplifies in severity each passing month. Local community groups are now training ordinary residents on how to get their hands on Narcan to curb the asymptotic rate of overdose deaths.
The local economics that surrounds a drug addict’s decisions on where to spend most of their time are a bit different than you and me. Since a drug is ruling that person’s life, high on the order of needs is living close to the drug market. Kensington has always been the prime real estate for the illicit drug industry for a few reasons. The EL that is now considered a jewel of an asset to real estate developers as homebuyers look for proximity to transit as a key selling point was once a key selling point of trading drugs around Somerset. Besides the local drug users who live in Kensington, a large amount of people from around the region find their way to the heroin supermarket by way of SEPTA. For non-resident overdose fatalities, nearly all of them happen in Kensington and Fairhill.
The death of Kensington’s original economy–manufacturing–opened the door to drugs. It is still the neighborhood’s most active economic trade. As manufacturing was gutted the nearby worker homes that were built to cater to those who worked in Kensington crashed in price. You could buy a whole house in Kensington for what it costs you to rent for a few months in Center City. As the area garnered a bad reputation, slumlords flourished and City Hall paid homage to the poor that live there but did little in the way of getting any real economic replacement going for what was originally there. The EL itself was seen as a gash in the neighborhood and the crime under its shadows a scary place, forever keeping the broader legitimate economy away.
New people, new politics
A thing that’s struck me since the Great Recession is the newer trend by City Hall to now treat the outer neighborhoods of Philadelphia much the same way as Kensington was treated for the last 35 years–mostly ignored. Irrational gentrification phobias dominate discourse within the city, meanwhile City Hall as a whole is more tightly bound to real estate developers than any member of City Council will ever admit, save for real estate developer Alan Domb who’s a Councilman-at-Large.
Many of the new homebuyers who are buying the new construction product that is now going up in Kensington are far more adept at compartmentalizing the malaise that lies feet from their front doors. They’re also willing to reverse commute to the suburbs. Higher property tax levels in the suburbs and non-urban housing styles have lent way for urban homebuilders to provide a product that’s fairly unique in the region. Add in speculation, density limits and the City’s broken vacant land dispensation policies and you sometimes see rapid price increases on land.
Kensington is also the only gentrifying area of Philly were local sentiment about new construction is generally positive than lamentive. There’s never been this level of investment before in this place by the private market and so close to some of the city’s worst social problems. The new residents generally do not accept the level of non-involvement from City Hall as lifetime Kensington residents have grown accustomed. While they may be able to squeeze some resources out of City Hall with enough activism, their sheer presence alone is what’s turned Kensington around.
For opioid addicts who rent the magic number for what I call their push/pull rent number is $900. Once rental prices push north of $900/mo for a 1-bedroom unit a heroin addict who does less than one bundle a day will start to scour rental listings looking to move. Non-functioning addicts, those who are abusing heavily are usually not in a stable living situation. They may split rent with someone in a house, head to a group home or take up some other alternative living situation. Square footage prices in areas where 1-bedroom rents have gone past $900 are unattractive for those who provide those beds as a business. For those who own the property who is housing an addict, they may turn the deed loose after the market price goes high enough that cashing out is too enticing. For 2-story brick that number is around $150,000. There are 16-foot vacant lots in Kensington that now cost more than $60,000 to purchase.
Besides the drug abusers, drug dealers themselves are also sensitive to real estate prices. Once a mass of drug addicts shifts, it opens the drug market wherever they’re going to. Lower Bucks County has been one of those areas exhibiting a new influx of Philadelphia residents, some of them following their clients and selling pills and heroin to them out in the suburbs. As heroin availability has been increasing in Philadelphia’s suburbs it eats into part of the drug market that Kensington has–which further puts pressure on dealers.
Rental prices pushing from the other direction forces some dealers to decamp. Even drug cartels must work within the confines of the real estate market.
And that is exactly what’s happened to South and East Kensington as real estate values have gone up. Visible open-air drug markets in roughly half of Kensington have all but disappeared and gone indoors whereas the part of Kensington that has not seen any new home construction at all remains unchanged.
New construction and rehabs create a virtuous cycle where residential investment re-animates dead commercial space in the neighborhood. This dampens the social ills in the neighborhood by statistical function and on the ground where the neighborhood looks as changed as it does on paper. But this is also the root of one of the biggest complaints about gentrification. Those who are poor and living in a neighborhood are not re-made into the wealthy people who are the ones buying these new housing units and local government is the same as before–failing to provide economic opportunity for those same poor who now feel the crush of tax appraisals on their heads.
Government could certainly eliminate this latter problem by using a process of appraisal pegging; which is a different form of a Homestead Exemption that’s implemented in some states and in Pennsylvania for low income seniors. By holding off on re-appraising a house until the next time the property is sold, existing lifetime resident-homeowners don’t feel the heat of gentrification pressure. That also encourages a large part of the owner-population to stay rooted in Philadelphia. We’re the only city that has a large low-income homeownership rate so this type of policy would be an easy win for the very people that City Hall says it wants to protect. But neither anti-gentrification activists nor anyone else are calling for sticky assessments. It seems strange too since the first person who would ever propose it in City Council would become an instant populist hero.
Kensington’s path out of the drug crisis is to transform itself into a desirable community that’s considered a nice place to live, which is where it’s headed. It makes perfect sense that path should be supported as it is right now since it’s working. The communities that are on the receiving end of the drug migration are now dealing with a very visible opioid crisis which isn’t just a problem for the Philly burbs, but all the rural counties of the state. There’s nowhere to move to escape the opioid crisis since it’s everywhere. It’s also a crisis that has leapt over the rural/urban split in Pennsylvania, making a political settlement on what resources to commit to the problem easier to manage.
The current drug wave centered around Kensington which is also home to a hot construction market is certainly a peculiar oddity. If Kensington’s redevelopment transformation keeps up the drug market will also continue to lose real estate from which to transact business. As long as people continue to hold the view that Kensington holds untapped potential and look upon the neighborhood positively then people will see value in living in new construction and rehabs built here. That helps to lower the pressure of all the problems Kensington has; perhaps even to bring some of that malaise down from a constant string of unsolvable crisis to “maybe that’s fixable”.
This is a great plea deal for Seth Williams, not so great for the rest of us
I’m sure your phone is blowing up with alerts about now-former District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams deciding at 1 this morning to take a plea deal to one count of bribery, admitting to everything he did, and as of lunchtime right now he’s turned himself in and is being held at the Federal Detention Center at 6th and Market.
Seth Williams was facing nearly two dozen counts. By taking a plea deal for one count of bribery everything now hinges on what federal judge Paul Diamond does during sentencing. Nothing short of the maximum sentence possible is going to be acceptable to the public. It’s really easy to see why:
First, he’s the chief state law enforcement official in Philadelphia County. The DA decides whether or not police work is sufficient enough to bring a criminal case to trial. This places the District Attorney at one level above the Philadelphia Police Department in the “prestige” totem pole. The person who runs the DA’s office has to have a level of impeccable integrity. Anything less and the criminal justice system is damaged.
Seth Williams’ actions have caused extensive and systemic damage to Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. I know Democrat-loving journalists talked up his diversion programs when they were still loving him 2 years ago… but his integrity issues were well known to the chattering classes 4 years ago.
I knew about them five years ago. Assistant DAs working at the District Attorney’s Office knew about them before he won his first election. They knew a day like this was in store for Seth.
This also comes at a time when the criminal justice system is under intense scrutiny. Any sentence short of the maximum here is a strong signal to Black Lives Matter. Cops who corrupt their station get the wrist slap while you and me get the book.
Federal sentencing invariably turns every defendant about to be sentenced into a hypochondriac, as medical conditions factor in to how much confinement a criminal gets. You saw the cover of the 2015 fitness magazine that the Union League put out, Judge Diamond.
Seth Williams is in great shape for jail.
Send him away. We do not ever want to see this man ever again for the rest of our lives.
I am on the board of the Olde Richmond Civic Association*. Our area, Port Richmond, Somerset, East Kensington, Fairhill and Feltonville have been dealing with a tidal wave of bodybags the last couple of years.
Those bodybags are being filled with the bodies of mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. Call them opioid addicts, the afflicted, junkies–the terms don’t matter. The bodies on the ground do.
ORCA has made great progress working with the Philadelphia Police Department on lowering the petty home-theft burglary rate our community has suffered through the opioid epidemic. While we found a solution for it (our security camera program), the crisis erupting all around us hasn’t gotten any better.
We’re now going to increase that level at which we involve ourselves in the heroin plague. Several members of our board carry Narcan, the over-the-counter opioid-blocker. Next week we will be bringing Prevention Point to ORCA to demonstrate the drug, the guidelines for using it and how you can get yourself a supply of Narcan.
Please ignore the off-the-cuff bullshit from your Facebook neighbor who has no experience with the medicine. Come to Olde Richmond and get proper Narcan training.
Consider it like CPR training for living here, or anywhere in Pennsylvania really… since our entire state is infected.
The Narcan class will be held at the Cione Recreation Center, this June 27, at 7:30 PM as part of our General Membership Meeting.
*Per our by-rules, I need to remind you this piece is entirely mine and not the opinion of ORCA.