Will Philly End Its Rape Kit Backlog?

Natasha Alexenko was a sophomore in college, majoring in film, living in New York City. She’d grown up in a small town in Ontario, raised by a single mom, and all she wanted, all her life, was to move to Manhattan, the place where she’d been born. It had a mythical appeal to her, and when she moved there in the early ’90s, it did not disappoint: she loved every inch of it, and she felt no fear. “I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg,” she says now, riding in a car with her mother after an appearance on the cable news network HLN. Back home, people worried about her, but when she found the perfect apartment with the perfect roommates — a place where she could have a dog, another dream realized — it seemed things couldn’t get much better. It was all going according to plan.

Until the day a man, a stranger, accosted her in the stairwell of her perfect apartment building, jamming the metal of a 9mm semiautomatic into her back and bending her over a railing. He raped her there, he sodomized her, then he fled. Now Natasha, dirty with his fluids, shocked, traumatized, made her way back to her apartment, where a roommate persuaded her to wait for an ambulance. All she wanted was to shower, to get rid of him. But she waited — so close to her soaps and shampoo, so close to clean clothes! — because she’d been raised to respect law enforcement, to cooperate. She wanted to help them do their job, and, well, “my body was a crime scene,” is how she puts it now. Read more »

Scenes From an Occupation: The Amtrak Crash Media Frenzy

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Along Frankford Avenue, lined up like antennaed Chiclets, are the white news vans from all over. Some of the names and logos are recognizable — CNN, for instance, and MSNBC. Others are less familiar, like 15up Media LLC from Raleigh, NC. Video cameras, tripods, light deflectors, umbrellas are all set up outside The Clown House Restaurant and Tipsy Bar and Grill across the street. This is where Mayor Michael Nutter and other officials come to give press conferences.

There are reporters everywhere, even on the roof of the Philly Auto Tag building. An enormous NBC News van sits in front of JJW Tires Shop, whose mascot chihuahua/poodle mix, roughly the size of a grown man’s outstretched hand, barks at all comers. CBS News This Morning set up early on a resident’s porch, where Norah O’Donnell read from a teleprompter. Spanish-language TV and radio stations interview Latino residents, while on-air talent sweats through pancake makeup.

Area residents sit on stoops and get approached by reporter after reporter or open their doors to enormous cameras. Former Congressman Patrick Murphy, who was on one of the derailed cars, spends the morning within the media staging area to answer questions. Current Senator Pat Toomey goes to the home commandeered by CBS News for an interview. A box of Philadelphia soft pretzels sits in front of where the news teams gather for each press conference, like an offering to the gods. “Treat us kindly, please.”

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At Amtrak Derailment Site, Neighbors Acted As First Responders

Buckius Street, which turned into a hub of helpful activity after the trains derailed, is blocked off now. | Photo by Liz Spikol

Buckius Street, which turned into a hub of helpful activity after the trains derailed, is blocked off now. Photo | Liz Spikol

Tiffany O’Neill, 27, stands among journalists laden with cameras and tripods across from a large empty lot on Frankford Avenue. She’s watching, at quite a distance, as a huge crane makes its way toward an Amtrak train car lying on its side. Men in orange vests scurry around the train like symbiotic little fish around a giant sea creature. The wind whips Tiffany’s long light brown hair, which she pushes out of her freckled face as she talks. She’s one of very few local residents here — there may be four total — watching. But like her neighbors on tiny Buckius Street, just two blocks down, she has been on this site, on and off, since the first moment she heard the crash last night, which she first thought was her upstairs neighbor vacuuming.  Read more »

Pope Francis and Me

Illustration by Heather Landis

Illustration by Heather Landis

My love affair with Catholicism started at age nine, when my family moved from Center City to Fairmount. Those years on 23rd Street were momentous. I saw a man commit suicide by jumping off a balcony. I got held up at knifepoint. My toes were damaged in a skateboarding accident. I saw my first dead body in my friend’s house, which doubled as a funeral home. I became slowly terrorized by OCD.

If ever there was a time when I needed religion, this was it. But my parents were atheist Jews.

So I decided I wanted to be Catholic. All my neighborhood friends were Catholic, and when they went to school they wore beautiful lemon yellow shirts and emerald green jumpers. Their school’s name sounded like something out of Narnia: St. Francis Xavier. The spelling of “Xavier” almost did me in. Read more »

Medical Malpractice Suits Down in Pennsylvania

 

Fourteen years ago, Pennsylvania started tracking the number of medical malpractice case filings, and now comes good news: the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts reports that 2014 had the fewest new cases ever filed, which is part of an overall decline from the “base years” of 2000-2002. As you might expect, Philly has the largest caseload, but that’s declined almost 70 percent.

Why the drop? Read more »

Carpenters Union Sued for Racketeering

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The battle between the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the ousted carpenters union has taken another ugly turn: Thursday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA) filed a federal RICO complaint against the union, as a whole as well as against specific members.

Named defendants are Edward Coryell Sr., Edward Coryell Jr., J.R. Hocker, Richard Rivera, Ronald Curran, Kenyatta Bundy and Richard Washlick, as well as 10 John Does.

The complaint outlines the entire history of the conflict, starting with the carpenters’ initial refusal to sign the new customer service agreement that the other unions signed. (The carpenters later signed the agreement, but after a center-set deadline to do so.) The suit characterizes Ed Coryell Sr.’s negotiations as “belligerent brinksmanship,” and says when that failed, the union launched “a campaign of illegal violence and intimidation” including “illegal and disruptive mass picketing and protests; physical intimidation, harassment, stalking, and assault and battery; verbal intimidation, harassment, race-baiting, and threats; and the destruction of property.”

Such behavior, the suit alleges, did serious harm to the Convention Center financially “in the form of property damage, lost business, and added expenses for security, customer and exhibitor relations, and legal fees.” The center seeks more than $1 million and a total end to the union’s alleged bad behavior.

The carpenters wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

So that’s the case, in a nutshell. But the complaint, as it must, gets into some pretty extensive detail about what, allegedly, the carpenters did. Let’s break down the allegations:

Read more »

Victory Brewing Opens New Digs in Kennett Square

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The Downingtown-based Victory Brewing Company has officially opened Victory at Magnolia. It’s on Cypress Street in Kennett Square in a new development that’s still under construction but so far includes townhouses and apartments. The surroundings aren’t so exciting: There’s a Rite Aid on one corner; a dance academy and a dry cleaner across the street; and not too much else in the immediate vicinity. But inside the seven-barrel brewery, Victory’s president and brewmaster Bill Covaleski spoke to an opening-day crowd with plenty of enthusiasm about the future for the location, which will feature, he said, plenty of site-specific beers. In fact, Covaleski told us he might one day make a mushroom beer, though he admitted that could be a tough sell.

The food menu is finely tuned for “beer enjoyment,” he said, and made from the freshest local ingredients—including, of course, plenty of mushrooms. The chef comes to the 220-seat restaurant from Victory’s Downingtown location, and is relishing this opportunity to create a new menu.
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Want to Live Longer? Move to Lancaster.

They say this city can kill you. Well now we have proof.

Graphic from Measure of American of the Social Science Research Council's report "<a href=

The Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project has released a report called “Geographies of Opportunity: Ranking Well-Being by Congressional District” in which they measure health, access to knowledge and living standards within the country’s 435 congressional districts as well as Washington, D.C. Only a few states get called out for special notice, and wouldn’t you know it, Pennsylvania is one of them.

pa-district-2There’s a special section called “A Tale of Two Districts: Life Expectancy in Pennsylvania.” The reason the state gets special attention is because it’s an outlier in terms of the health metric, and not in a good way. “Only four districts outside the South have life expectancies of less than 76 years,” the report reads, and one of those is Pennsylvania Congressional District 2, shown at left, which covers much of West Philly, and  other surrounding neighborhoods. The average life expectancy in this district is 75.6 years, to be precise, which is several years below the national average. Read more »

Was Drew Becher Too Ambitious for Philly?

Drew Becher and Rachael Ray at the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show.

Drew Becher and Rachael Ray at the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show. | Photo: Bradley Maule

Let me be frank: I have no facility with plants or flowers; anytime a green thing comes into contact with my fingers, it wilts and dies, as though my antidepressants are leeching through my pores. Still, I’m deeply attuned to the flora of our city. For one thing, we’re fortunate to live in a verdant metropolis with an enormous park system. For another, we have a robust horticultural society that presents the largest flower show in the hemisphere. And lately, well, we’ve got these pop-up gardens that celebrate plants and flowers — and also offer beer. We mustn’t forget the beer.

And I’m not alone. Residents of Philadelphia care deeply about our ample green space. That’s why it hasn’t surprised me to be on the receiving end, for several months now, of rather urgently phrased whispers about potential problems at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). The problems, people told me, all related to its president, Drew Becher, and the changes he’s implemented since he arrived in 2010 to replace Jane Pepper, who was president for 29 years before she retired. Modernization is never easy, and change agents have it especially hard in this town. But the level of vitriol directed at Becher surprised me — and this was coming from people outside of PHS, without an ax to grind.

Read more »

Philly Woman Arrested on Suspicion of Trying to Join ISIS

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Thirty-year-old Philadelphia woman Keonna Thomas, who also goes by Fatayat Al Khilafah or YoungLioness, has been charged today with “knowingly attempting to provide material support and resources” to ISIS and is now in federal custody.

According to a criminal complaint filed today (see below), Thomas started to publicly affirm her sympathies with ISIS on Twitter in August of 2013, when she posted a photo of a young man with ammunition pouches in camouflage and wrote: “Ask yourselves, while this young man is holding magazines for Islamic State, what are you doing for it? #ISIS.”  Read more »

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