Because of its size and numerous diverse neighborhoods, the US Census divides Philadelphia into over 360 census tracts (factfind.census.gov, n.pag.). It’s no wonder that some neighborhoods are in better condition than others because the city government does not have enough resources to allocate and distribute evenly among all the communities. Unfortunately, some receive the short end of the bargain and one of these communities is Kensington.
There have been a couple of incidents in the past couple years that have specifically highlighted Philadelphia’s involvement in the community, to be exact, with the law. While Kensington has been referred to as a neighborhood in many popular movies and hit television shows, the name received lots of local and some national attention when the Philadelphia Weekly did a report on Philadelphia’s top ten drug corners. Making it to the number one spot was Kensington and Somerset Sts, right in the middle of Kensington (www.philadelphiaweekly.com, n.pag.).
This expose revealed a lot about the drug culture of the area and how it has affected other parts of the region. According to the article, much of the drug activity in the Northeast has been concentrated on this block, bringing in people neighborhoods all over North Philadelphia. In one undercover account, the reporter mentions, “a silver Toyota pulls up to the curb and a heavy-set blonde hops out… [and yells] ‘Who’s got works?’… Several men rush to her to be the first to make a dollar selling her a syringe” (www.thedailybeast.com, n.pag.). This sort of activity is not uncommon and because of it, more and more drug deals go down in this intersection.
However, how can drug deals be done so openly, throwing caution to the wind? Why haven’t the city of Philadelphia police done anything about this drug-ridden corner? Starting in November 2010, the Kensington neighborhood was plagued by the Kesington Strangler. This serial killer, later identified as Antonio Rodriguez, killed three women and sexually assaulted another four (abcnews.go.com, n.pag.). During his three-month stint, Philadelphia police scoured the area, sending officers all over the neighborhood in hopes of getting people to talk and help them identify the killer that was terrorizing the area. During this time, not only were police conducting interviews and questioning people, but they were also doing drug investigations at the same time, busting several internal drug rings and arresting dealers on the streets (www.philadelphiaweekly.com, n.pag.).
This was the first time in a while that police actually cared about the drug markets of Kensington. Prior to the Kesington Strangler, little to none was actually done about it and after Rodriguez was caught, things returned to normal. The police basically turned a blind eye to the drugs. While the city received lots of criticism from community activists as well as representatives from other districts, Philadelphia police defended itself, stating that these drug offenses were petty crimes compared to other things around the city that deserved more attention.
This is a pretty accurate generalization of the Philadelphia police activity in Kensington. Because most of the crimes in the region are drug related, police efforts are concentrated in other neighborhoods. The police do have a presence in the neighborhood, as seen during our trip, but they mind their own business and the people of Kensington mind theirs.
Aside from drug-related crimes, Kensington also does experience its fair share of social injustice, as well as people taking advantage of the poor conditions of the neighborhood. Legal, unfair services such as check cashing centers and pawn shops litter the area. However, there are have been several cases of individuals using scams to make whatever money they can off of Kensingtonians. In the Spring of 2011, landlord Robert Coyle Sr. was accused of running a rent-to-own ponzi scheme. He promised many low income families an opportunity to invest in run down housing, using the money to pay for repairs and the mortgage, in hopes of one day having a stake in it and owning their own house.
Due to language barriers, Coyle was able to convince many non-native English speakers to give him money, in which he pocketed instead of using to pay the mortgages. Not only was he brought to court by the City Council’s Committee on Housing Neighborhood Development, but several representatives, including Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez has started a task force committee to help investigate these allegations and ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again (www.nkcdc.org, n.pag.).
Outside of law based instances, the greater Philadelphia region also plays a part in the outreach and advocacy of the neighborhood to national programs. For example, Philadelphia reached out to various organization, including IMPACT Services Corporation. Now, it has established the Kensington and Allegheny Business Association (KABA). Since it was established, KABA has provided many business related service. They talk with local business to try and find a compromise so the businesses provide relevant, yet affordable goods to the neighborhood. They also work with the city, especially on things like zoning, to help new business owners start up a store. Organizations such as these would not have a specific service, let alone a presence in these communities without the outreach work the city of Philadelphia does for the neighborhood (www.impactservices.org, n.pag.).
As mentioned in Advocacy, Community, and Civic Infrastructure section, many of Kensington neighbors are employed outside of the neighborhood, from working in South Philadelphia and University City to Sugar House Casino right down the road. The relationship employers has with Kensington is an important one and without the employer outreach and business advocacy programs in the area, jobs would be even more scarce than they already are.
- Police presence in Kensington is visible, but overall, arrests are at a minimum unless there is an ongoing threat in the neighborhood.
- While some public works projects may take longer than usual to fulfill, the city of Philadelphia government is very involved in social justice movement, protecting its inhabitants due to poor economic levels.
- Outreach from the city on the behalf of Kensington has led to many outreach programs that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.