Annette John-Hall: As we decry the bad guys, let's not forget to cheer the heroes

The subject line of the e-mail read: "What a f- culture."

Well, then.

The missive - and others like it - came Tuesday, the day I wrote about Doris Swarn, a dedicated young lifeguard at the Hartranft pool in North Philadelphia and one of many unsung heroes making a difference in disadvantaged neighborhoods. You know, the communities that folks love to stereotype, but God forbid they'd try to see for themselves.

The cyber shooter went on: "I'm watching the 6 o'clock news and crimes by African Americans are taking up the first 10 minutes. . . . Savages. Plain and simple. . . . As the only black columnist at The Inquirer, why don't you take a stand like Bill Cosby did?"

Well, first of all, the "only black columnist at The Inquirer" shouldn't be the only person, black or white, weighing in on the violence in this city, because it's an acid cloud that threatens to touch all of us.

When a mob of teens left a concert in North Philly and spilled into Spring Garden and Center City, assaulting and robbing citizens along the way, for many residents the madness had finally hit home.

It's mind-boggling to read that 32 people were shot over a three-day period last weekend. You read that right: 32.

We should be outraged whether it's the death of one anonymous person filling a newspaper brief or five victims taking a front-page headline.

Sadly, I haven't received any letters of outrage about that.

It's easier to go on a hateful rant that serves no purpose other than spreading a hail of bile.

I've said it before: As the mother of a son who looks like most of the victims and perpetrators of the recent crimes, I know firsthand that black men aren't inherently "savages" and "animals" and "criminals."

While African Americans are disproportionately affected, the disregard for human life mirrors our culture of violence, one that's as American as apple pie.

No blame game

No, I'm not blaming a game of Black Ops as the reason why a shooter opened fire during a fight at an impromptu party attended by 200 Sunday night, killing Nyeme Taylor and injuring three girls, including Taylor's daughter, at Mander Playground in Strawberry Mansion. That would be a cop-out.

Taylor, 30, had gone to the playground to see about his 14-year-old son, who had been jumped. One of the attackers wasn't having any part of a father protecting his son. He killed Taylor, just like that.

When I went to the playground Wednesday, I couldn't believe this was the same place where the mayhem occurred. Taylor's blood had been washed away, and children played like children do.

But there were telltale signs. A police cruiser and camper were parked outside the pool - the same one that Mayor Nutter jumped in to kick off the summer season not even two weeks ago.

Now, the same pool is closing early every day for safety reasons.

The problem, says Zenobia Butler, 30, who had taken her disappointed 10-year-old, Zaniyah, to the pool, is a combustible "lack of" - of parenting and resources for young people.

"I see young ladies 13 to 18 just walking around with nothing to do," says Butler, a manager at a Sonic restaurant who lives in the neighborhood. "I see 10- and 12-year-olds out at night. Where are the parents? I know some parents work at night and trust their kids home alone, but. . . ."

"You have to understand, there's no fear of authority figures because there's usually not one in the household," says Selena Gilbert, 40, a behavioral specialist from North Philly who was watching her 3-year-old son, Silas, play on the slide. "So when that parent [Taylor] came to the playground, they showed him no respect at all."

It's Sociology 101: Poverty begets crime. Joblessness. Single-parent homes. The availability of guns. But still, most poor people don't kill. And what explains a teen shooting into a crowd of innocent people?

But for every thug intent on bringing the community down, there are dozens more people working hard to lift it up - like the good people from the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center and the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corp., some of whom have lost loved ones to violence.

So, no, I won't apologize for writing about those who do good. They deserve a headline, too. Because the best way to guide young people, to understand their hurt and pain - to give them hope - is by engaging them, not throwing them away.

On Thursday, police charged 18-year-old Amir Jamal with Nyeme Taylor's murder. But the news brought little solace to his widow, Tanya.

When I spoke to her Thursday morning, she was picking out clothes to take to the mortuary for her husband's viewing.


Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter: Annettejh.