Sunday, June 8, 2008
Wazier El remembers the excitement that day in October, when nearly 10,000 men gathered in a stadium to send a message to drug dealers, gang members and gun-toting criminals: The violence must stop.
In a matter of days, the men vowed, they would patrol the streets of this city, where the homicide rate is among the highest in the nation.
But seven months later, many volunteers who once felt so full of hope have given up. The movement -- "Call to Action: 10,000 Men -- It's a New Day in Philadelphia" -- has faced organizational and financial struggles. Frustrated with leadership, some volunteers have had second thoughts.
In the meantime, things in Philadelphia are not much better.
This month, police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was killed during a bank robbery -- the third cop killing in two years. Two days later, a news helicopter captured more than a dozen white police officers kicking and using batons to hit three black shooting suspects. Parts of the footage aired on television stations nationwide and reached audiences across the world through the Internet. The Rev. Al Sharpton called the beating "worse than Rodney King."
The latest incidents of violence have exposed a split in Philadelphia.
In one letter to the editor, a newspaper reader wrote: "It seems that the Police Department has declared it's hunting season on young black men." Another, however, expressed this point of view: "Here we go again. Punks are shooting up Philly as though it's the Wild West. And who gets the heat? The cops who catch up with some of these cowards." [Mark Godsey]