Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Welcome to Philadelphia -- You Might Just Get Shot, But That's Life and At Least You'll Be Having Fun While It Happens"

Changing gears for a moment, I love the city of my birth. My life is here, my family, and its unique sensibilities, rituals and rhythms of life are very much my own, and no matter where I end up, they'll come along.

Philly's a lot like the church in that it's a great place to be, despite the more-than-just-occasional obstinacy (or, more accurately, downright idiocy) of some of its leadership. And the latest example of that can be found in the pages of today's Inquirer.

You see, we've had a bit of a rough patch here in town lately. At least that's the case for those of us who live in reality and can't afford the sky-high rent for Center City properties built of plywood with a brick covering. The city has suffered under an outbreak of homicides which has led to the highest homicide rate of the US' 10 largest urban areas -- 209 so far this year, 380 in 2005.

Even when someone's not killed, it's easy to live in fear. Just the other day, I was talking with one of my grandmother's neighbors who heard a spray of bullets not far from her house at 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning. And I've always had a tough time pondering the concrete evils of the prolife chic causes when it's fairly possible that a stray bullet can wipe me out while walking from a parking spot to my parents' place.

I'm not kidding. But when the version of the "Gospel of Life" we hear so much of is basically an academic manifesto of comfortable suburban existence as opposed to a complete body of commitment, this is the result.

So what does the city's fearless leader have to say for himself, you may be asking?

Well, in the grand tradition of blowing up an entire city block (see Goode, Wilson; MOVE), Convention Center union-infighting (see "three hours, 25 men and six unions to do a 10-minute, two-man job"), the brain drain of college graduates which almost seems to applaud when the newest products of Penn, Drexel, St Joe's et al. run out of town and head to New York or DC, and the various and sundry taxes which perform no service but ginormous pensions for a bloated city bureaucracy, Mayor John Street's response evokes images of a fiddling man called Nero:
"I think people understand that, in an urban environment, you're going to have a level of violence," said Mayor Street..... "I think when people come to Philadelphia, when they experience our city and they take it all into account, I just don't think it's going to be a deterrent."
Full disclosure: Even though Street won both times, I am thanking the Almighty that He gave me the grace to work against this man's election and re-election. And remember, he ran as the "Mayor of the Neighborhoods."

Excuse me while I bang my head against a wall.

Not that you'll ever see my name on a ballot or anything -- I left those ideas behind me a long time ago -- but how senseless, brazen violence, the grief it causes and its effect on families, communities and the future can just be written off as a not-so-peachy part of city life strains reason.

Then again, that's the response you get as long as it's not happening to "the 'wrong' people."

And I'm reminded that simply being from Philadelphia might not be the worst thing.