Why Is Michael Nutter Silent on Inner-City-Bred Violence?

There is something fundamentally wrong with a lot of urban kids—and it's the mayor's job to at least try to fix it

How about it, Mr. Mayor? Can we hear from you on this one?

Earlier this week, an 84-year-old man named Jim Shea was attacked by four young thugs on Forbidden Drive in Wissahickon Valley Park. He said the four guys appeared to be between 16 and 20 years old. Shea is white; the attackers are black. They jumped him for fun, apparently, because they didn’t bother stealing his wallet, keys or cellphone. No, they kicked him around and laughed as they were doing it. Shea spent four hours in the hospital. He’s got a broken nose and stitches in his face, but he’s going to be okay.

I suppose you don’t have to address this, Mr. Mayor, because it isn’t anywhere near the level of flash mob violence we’ve seen bubble up the past year or so downtown, which is a big threat not only to people but to Center City businesses. I applauded you for standing in the pulpit of your church a couple of months ago, Mr. Mayor, and saying some bold things, including this:

“Parents who neglect their children, who don’t know where they are, who don’t know what they’re doing, who don’t know who they’re hanging out with, you’re going to find yourself spending some quality time with your kids in jail.”

Those words seemed like an opportunity; now they feel hollow, since you haven’t followed up on them. And the attack on Jim Shea speaks to the same problem, which is that there’s something fundamentally sick in our inner-city culture. It isn’t going away.

Perhaps one old man getting beaten up in a park on the edge of the city is small potatoes. Perhaps it has touched me because my wife and I walk the same trail where Jim Shea got hammered. Perhaps you feel, Mr. Mayor, that you have said your piece, in one bold moment when you let it rip at your church.

But if you feel that way, you’re making a big mistake. I am a white guy on the cusp of old myself, though the violence doesn’t make me nervous so much as enraged. But the point here goes far beyond my safety or anger. There is nothing more crucial to the future of our city than the fate of inner-city children—that’s so obvious, writing it seems silly.

Yet we are strangely obtuse to the reality: Another story this week that’s gotten bigger play concerns Menduawor Comgbaye, the six-year-old West Philadelphia boy who was getting routinely beaten up by African-American classmates because they didn’t like his West African name—once to the point of his mother taking him to the hospital to get checked out. Menduawor’s been transferred, after much foot-dragging, to a charter school.

Why would young children, and older children, behave this way? Because their parents are absent or violent themselves or don’t care enough, creating what Jim Shea called “some bad kids with rancid souls.” I think that, too, is obvious. But why are we unwilling to stand up and say how horrible parental neglect (or worse) is, that it is, in fact, intolerable?

Why would you speak about this once, Mr. Mayor—and quite eloquently—and then go largely silent? Because it’s beyond the purview of your job? Because a mayor can’t really affect the culture of his city?

Maybe you can’t. But it seems to me you’ve got a moral obligation to keep trying, at least. To be one strong voice, on the most important problem facing our city—isn’t that part of your job?