Summer Shouldn’t Be Canceled in Black Neighborhoods Due to Gun Violence

The recent shutdowns of several Black community events reinforce racial double standards and political hypocrisy.

Can politicians do more to keep events in Black neighborhoods from being canceled over safety concerns? / Photograph by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto

As Philadelphia responds to its ongoing gun violence crisis, I’m noticing that Black neighborhoods are being penalized the most in the name of “safety.”

Several community gatherings held in predominantly Black areas of the city are being canceled due to the heightened rhetoric surrounding recent shootings. The annual Unity in the Community Block party was cut in South Philly, as were the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative’s West Fest Block Party at Sayre Recreation Center and Councilwoman Cindy Bass’s Summer Event Series in the Northwest. The organizers of these events have said the rise in gun violence makes it hard for them to ensure the safety of attendees at these public gatherings.

“With the issues that are happening in that area, as well as throughout the city, I just didn’t have faith that we would be able to keep people safe at the event,” Bass told the press in shutting her series down.

I call bullshit.

Large Black community events (like Juneteenth festivals) went off fine earlier this summer, so why are we canceling similar events now? Politicians who just increased the police budget should have the clout and resources to support safer outdoor gatherings in their neighborhoods.

The fact that our leaders don’t think increased policing is enough gives people like me who believe we overfund our police more fodder. For example, a spokesperson from Bass’s office was very brief and vague with me when I tried to request more details about what could be done to save that office’s community series. In short, I was told to read the public letter Bass had put up online detailing her concerns — but that letter didn’t mention attempts to increase security. I think elected officials should be doing more — such as working to waive security fees and directly coordinating with organizers — to keep these events afloat.

After all, despite an uptick in fiery rhetoric (including op-eds calling for the return of stop-and-frisk and TV appearances promoting curfews), politicians are still finding ways to keep their own events on the calendar.

Last Thursday, Councilmember Curtis Jones held his annual all-white-linen fund-raiser in his district, with several politicians, community leaders and politicos in attendance. The packed public event (with 100-plus attendees) went off without a single bullet being fired. Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson looks like she had a good time last week as she hosted dozens of her sorority sisters and friends at a lively outdoor public gathering at the Mann. Again, no fatalities reported — just like at many of the large public events this summer, including Odunde, Pride, the Roots Picnic, and the Roe v. Wade protests. Right now, it appears the shooting incidents on South Street and the Parkway are outliers, given that no other massive summer events have had similar incidents.

If elected officials feel comfortable hosting and attending large public gatherings in our city, they should fight to keep these events in their districts from shutting down. If the crisis is as out-of-control as they’ve suggested, they should be setting a better example by not going out as well. Otherwise, they should step up to ensure that the community can experience the same joy they are. Research has shown that media coverage of gun violence (which gives a disproportionate amount of attention to less common circumstances and victims) doesn’t reflect reality; politicians are reinforcing this problematic behavior with their all-doom-and-gloom-with-no-boom approach.

Such double standards further the narrative of two different Philadelphias: one that feels limiting for Black neighborhoods, and another that feels open and expansive for those who are white and/or have power. The recent July 4th shooting incident at the Parkway didn’t result in the city canceling upcoming events in that area. The Oval XP and Made In America will still be happening this summer on the Parkway. What it has led to is canceled events in Black neighborhoods.

Translation: If you live in a predominately white neighborhood, your summer won’t be canceled due to gun violence. Everyone else’s most likely will.

If politicians think ending community gatherings such as block parties, large BBQs, and outdoor concerts is in the best interest of their constituents, they should reconsider. A lack of community engagement is part of the reason gun violence continues to fester. By throwing up their hands and not finding better ways (such as emphasizing the need for resources and services more than fixating on law and order) to protect and prioritize their constituents who need recreation — especially because they’ve been dealing with the trauma of gun violence — elected officials are letting the bad guys win.

For all of the callouts of Kenney’s remarks after the July 4th shooting, such a defeatist approach to this problem isn’t any better.