AS ANTON MOORE and Nakia Carr got out of a car at Hollywood and Morris Streets in South Philly on Friday night, gunshots rang out.
"We heard 'pow, pow, pow.' I said, 'What the hell?' It was not even a half a block up the street," said Moore, 30, president and founder of Unity in the Community.
Not that they were surprised, really. Gunshots are an all-too-familiar sound in that neighborhood. Two days earlier, they'd been there going door-to-door imploring parents to monitor their children and to ensure there were no illegal guns in their houses. They were back to speak again with a mother worried her 18-year-old might get caught up in the violence that lately feels as if it's sweeping the city even more than usual.
The woman answered the door looking visibly shaken by the gunshots. She came outside and repeatedly screamed to passersby, "Has anyone seen my son?"
Finally, a kid on a bicycle rode by and informed her that he was all right.
"The relief that was on this parent's face was unbelievable," said Carr, who works as a legislative assistant for State Rep. Jordan A. Harris (D., Phila.)
Moore and Carr told the mother about anti-violence programs in which she could enroll her son, and promised they'd be back. Other South Philly residents were gathering outside a corner store at 24th and Morris Streets. Moore and Carr needed to catch up with them - because once again they were going to knock on doors, carrying with them their anti-violence fliers and sign-up sheets.
"I think the most important thing is letting people know that there's somebody out here who does care," Moore told me as he waited for more members of the anti-violence group to show up.
Then, the group - about 10 in all - was off, walking up to houses in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Taylor Street, a dimly lit, mostly deserted block of rowhouses, before turning onto Ringgold Street. I tagged along and watched as wary residents peeped out and looked the group over, before tentatively stepping out onto their stoops. Everywhere we went, we heard the same things:
I can't let my kids play outside any more.
Remember when people used to settle disputes with fistfights?
Something has to be done.
One woman described how her child had hit the floor recently after gunshots rang out.
Another stood on her front steps and spoke mournfully about burying her 21-year-old nephew who had been shot multiple times.
A visibly frustrated dad promised to join the group and described his fears for his young children.
Another woman stood on the sidewalk and yelled and yelled about how too many kids in the neighborhood had nothing to do and the problems they were causing on her block.
As we made our way in the darkness, I thought about what Police Commissioner Richard Ross had told Philadelphia Magazine in the aftermath of six murders that took place during an eight-hour span on an unseasonably warm day earlier in the week. He'd said to a reporter, "People should not have to get used to living like that."
He's so right.
Last week was a particularly bloody week in Philly. So many people seem to be on edge. One false move and they might snap - the way that customer at Church's Chicken at 3650 N. Broad St. in Tioga, apparently did on March 6 when he started shooting following an argument.
Then there was the incident this past Tuesday, when a 55-year-old man reportedly went on a bloody rampage in Southwest Philly with a knife that left three people stabbed, one fatally.
Frankly, it has me unnerved. I'm extra vigilant lately. When I walk outside in crowds, I'm always watching to see if something is about to pop off. Our streets sometimes have the feel of a war zone. We shouldn't have to be afraid like this. When I'm on vacation, I travel to places where I feel totally safe, walking around at night - but when I'm back in Philly, my guard immediately goes back up.
It's heartbreaking, really. With the weather warming, people should be able to relax outside and not be constantly worried that a bullet might have their name on it, the way it did for that 18-year-old girl who was killed Saturday evening while standing on her porch on the 300 block of North Salford Street in West Philadelphia. The young woman was identified by 6ABC as Nadje Steedley.
We should be able to enjoy a night out with friends, unafraid that some knife-carrying kook will slice into us the way one did that 24-year-old man on Rittenhouse Square early Sunday.
That's why I applaud Unity in the Community and the members of the other community organizations for doing what they can to at least get their South Philly neighbors organized to make their blocks safer. It's going to take a whole lot more than just knocking on doors and passing out fliers, though. Their ranks are pitifully thin given the depths of what they're up against. They desperately need more men to join their ranks.
They need jobs for all the young men in dark hoodies whom we saw hanging out on the corners. They need alternatives to offer them to street life and all the problems that come with that.
Members head out again on Wednesday at 6 p.m. This time, they plan to gather at 27th and Tasker Streets. (For information, email Moore at Anton@unityinthecommunity215.com.)
Help them out if you can.
Because, as Ross said, "People should not have to get used to living like that."