August 21, 2019

Poverty is Violence (Standoff in Nicetown)

Poverty is Violence (Standoff in Nicetown)

The execution of a search warrant (one of hundreds carried out per month by Philly PD) escalated into a seven hour standoff with police last Wednesday in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia that left the city reeling. Maurice Hill was not the target of the original search warrant, but allegedly opened fire after police entered the house he was in which was adjacent to the house legally cleared for search.

Countless politicians commented on the incident (from Council President Darrell Clarke to Mayor Jim Kenney to more than 10 presidential candidates). Their remarks were limited to thoughts and prayers for the injured police officers and platitudes about the need for gun control. We support basic common-sense gun control measures, but emphasize these are not actually fundamental in making working class communities safe. In one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, the question of violence demands much more of an answer than just gun control legislation.

Although not always so high profile, shootings are devastatingly common in Nicetown and many other Philadelphia neighborhoods. In fact, the day after the shooting in Nicetown, 5 people were injured in a shooting only a few miles down Broad Street in Olney. According to Health Department data, the Nicetown-Tioga section, which is 85.5% African American, is the most violent neighborhood in the city. A man in Nicetown can only expect to live about 63.9 years (the lowest life expectancy in the city) vs. an average of 82 years for a man in Center City East. According to the 2017 census, the median income in Nicetown-Tioga is $17,493 and the neighborhood ranks 45th out of 46 in health outcomes for Philly neighborhoods. These conditions are not a coincidence. Big business is the cause of horrific substandard living conditions of black working class communities both in Philadelphia and nationwide.

The political establishment in the city offers sympathy and makes impassioned calls for change while simultaneously offering tax breaks to big corporations like Comcast, turning the other cheek as a billionaire banker closes Hahnemann hospital, and approving a harmful gas plant in the neighborhood. Working class people are left struggling through a labyrinth of underfunded schools, poverty-wage jobs, astronomical healthcare costs, and a punitive and racist criminal justice system.

Violence is a guarantee in the depraved, dead-end system of capitalism which prioritizes profit above human need without question. To address violence at the root we will need to go beyond gun control, to demand fully funded schools, medicare for all, comprehensive criminal justice reform, a massive green jobs program that trains and hires working class Philadelphians for union jobs to overhaul our crumbling infrastructure, and to fight for a socialist system based on human need not exploitation.