Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Apr 14, 2013

Part 8 of Liddonfield: One Neighborhood’s Struggle With Public Housing


Part 8:  UCAN Has Showdown with Politicans

By Rosemary Reeves

If you missed the first 7 parts of this series click on the links below:

Part 1:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision 
Part 7:  UCAN Rejects Mayor Wilson Goode’s Offer

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Police conduct a dramatic raid on Liddonfield and northeast civic groups learn the hard truth about Philadelphia's budget crisis from elected officials in part 8 of this series.

By late 1989 the crack cocaine epidemic that began just a few years earlier had swept across Philadelphia, causing an unprecedented spike in crime and drug addiction.  Prisons had become overcrowded with people convicted of drug-related offenses.  Police officers faced longer hours and intense pressure as they fought the crime wave that threatened the city.  Police work was more dangerous than ever before as officers encountered armed drug dealers.  Record numbers of cops were leaving the force while law-abiding citizens from neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia clamored for more police protection. Elected officials argued back and forth at city budget meetings trying to get funds for their districts that would cover the cost of police training and hiring, often to no avail.  The money just wasn’t there.  City coffers were running dry.  The 8th District Police Department persevered despite these daunting circumstances, as the citizens of northeast Philadelphia depended more than ever on the men and women in blue.


On November 15, 1988, two days after the protest against drugs in Liddonfield that took place at St. Dominic Marian Hall, Police Capt. Victor Marcone had been assigned to command a second undercover investigation of drug trafficking in the Liddonfield project.  For the next three weeks, cops staked out the worst trouble spot in the sprawling public housing development – the 8700 block of Glenloch Street – which had become a busy, open-air market for drugs.  Cars were lined up on a daily basis as dealers traded drugs for cash with motorists who had driven there to procure the crack cocaine and other illegal substances that would get them high.  Meanwhile, innocent drivers were frightened when approached by the dealers as they became caught in the snarled traffic on Glenloch.

Unbeknownst to the dealers, undercover cops conducted stake-outs in Liddonfield, right under their noses.  Plain clothes police officers videotaped drug buys to gather evidence.  Then on December 9, 1989 seventy police officers carried out a dramatic raid on the 8700 block of Glenloch.  Here is a quote from the news article, 28 Arrested In Northeast Drug Raid, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 10, 1989 by reporter Thomas J Gibbons, Jr.:

“Guns drawn, uniformed and plainclothes officers jumped from their vehicles and fanned out into the development. Moments later, the still December afternoon air carried sounds of doors being forced open by the officers…”

Dealers standing in the Glenloch cul-de-sac scattered and ran, with police in hot pursuit.  Buyers scrambled to get away, fearing arrest.  Law-abiding tenants of the project marveled at the scene before them, grateful that their long-awaited rescue was underway. The aforementioned news article states that while watching suspects being handcuffed and led into a police van, Liddonfield tenant Catherine Curran happily declared, “Throw away the key!”

Although 21 officers had been added to the area’s four districts according to Northeast Police Inspector William McDonough in his interview with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Larry King for the December 20, 1989 article To Gain Clout They Stand United, the local police department and many others across the city were severely understaffed.  Many cops were given temporary assignments as it became common practice for police departments to borrow cops from another district to help with investigations and raids on drug dealers as a way to offset the manpower shortage.  But drug dealers driven out of one area simply moved their operation to another neighborhood and back again when the heat was off.  

Due to a lawsuit against prison overcrowding many suspects were set free pending trial.  The courts were backlogged by as much as twelve months.  Only the most serious offenders were imprisoned before trial or faced long sentences.  Someone arrested and charged with drug dealing could be released within a few hours or days and not have his case come to trial until a year later.

On January 11, 1990 organizers of the United Civic Associations of the Northeast (UCAN), which included Tacony residents Joseph Sannutti and Charles Cooper, awaited some measure of satisfaction in their meeting with public officials at the Mayfair Athletic Club Building in the Mayfair-Holmesburg section of Philadelphia.  Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who had been heavily involved in issues related to Liddonfield, helped arrange the meeting to accommodate the demands of her constituents.  Though Mayor Wilson Goode was a no-show, the number of officials present was fourteen.  That was nine more than were at the St. Dominic Marian Hall protest that took place the previous month.   

From all appearances, UCAN was indeed gaining power and recognition.  According to the January 17, 1990 Philadelphia Inquirer article by reporter Larry King, Protesters Force Issue of Protection, city officials present at the meeting included City Managing Director James S. White, City Controller Jonathan Seidel, PA State Reps Dennis O’Brien, John M. Perzel, George T. Kenney, Jr. and Chris Wogan; City Council members Joan Krajewski, Jack Kelly, Brian O’Neill and David Cohen; FOP President Richard B. Costello, Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas McGeehan, Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher and Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Maier.

The heavy turn-out of public officials beyond the northeast was a positive sign, especially in light of statements made earlier by Councilman Thatcher Longstreth, who was quoted in Larry King’s article as saying the December 10th UCAN protest “doesn’t make a particle of difference because they’re not saying anything you didn’t already know.”  Longstreth, who was famous for wearing bow ties and argyle socks, was a cousin of President Herbert Hoover and a Republican.  He ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 1971 but was defeated by cantankerous and flamboyant Frank L. Rizzo, a Democrat.  

State Rep Dennis O'Brien
The meeting came to order.  During the two hours that followed, the showdown with city officials revealed that Philadelphia was in crisis.  The city could barely contain the crack cocaine epidemic that was spreading like wildfire.  State Representative Dennis O’Brien, who said in his interview with Larry King after the UCAN protest the previous month, “The word’s out on the street.  Nobody is going to be held in this town pending trial…unless you’re a murderer or a rapist” blamed the city for settling the lawsuit over prison crowding and setting the cap too low.  He suggested negotiating to raise the cap.

FOP President Richard Costello, when asked about training and hiring of new police, told the crowd, “It’s just ever increasing pressure with ever-fewer numbers” because there were not enough recruits graduating from the police academy to replace the cops who were leaving the force in droves.

City Controller Jonathan Saidel blamed inappropriate city budget spending and promised to conduct an audit of city departments.  By October of 1990, Saidel was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “This is it.  This is Armageddon.  When you run out of cash, you run out of cash.”

SOURCES:  

28 Arrested In Northeast Drug Raid, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 10, 1989 by reporter Thomas J Gibbons, Jr.

To Gain Clout They Stand United, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 20, 1989 by reporter Larry King

Protesters Force Issue of Protection, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 17, 1990 by reporter Larry King



Best Quotes From Citizens, Police and Politicians on Crime/Drugs in Liddonfiield - See more at: http://www.publichousingstories.com/2013/01/best-quotes-from-citizens-police-and.html#sthash.ZaAx8CzA.dpuf


Best Quotes From Citizens, Police and Politicians on Crime/Drugs in Liddonfiield - See more at: http://www.publichousingstories.com/2013/01/best-quotes-from-citizens-police-and.html#sthash.ZaAx8CzA.dpuf


2 comments:

  1. The two quotes you feature on your front page are from a black homosexual activist and a black communist. How would you describe yourself politically? Why do you seem to dislike your own race so much?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice question. I like it. Look for the answer on Monday, April 29, 2013.

      Delete

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