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

May 12, 2013

Part 9 of Liddonfield: One Neighborhood’s Struggle With Public Housing


PART 9:  DRUG DEALERS HOLD THEIR OWN MOCK PROTEST

By Rosemary Reeves

If you missed the first 8 parts of this series click on the links below:

Part 1:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision



A week after the seventh anniversary of the 1985 MOVE bombing, drug dealers attempt to use race as a means of creating conflict and divisions within the Liddonfield community.  Following a show of solidarity by black and white project tenants against the criminal agitators, drug dealers also ridicule the tenants by holding their own mock protest.

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The Liddonfield brotherhood was under siege by an invading force of criminal agitators who grew bolder with the knowledge that even if they were arrested the consequences were a joke ─ a few hours or days in jail and it was back on the streets to ply their trade.  Prison overcrowding assured their early release.  The drug dealers had the system in a vice grip and they knew it. 

While Liddonfield’s single mothers slept with their babes in cribs beside them, thugs regularly shot out street lights in the project in order to conduct illegal activities in the shadows.  The frightened women comforted their children when gunfire awoke them from their innocent childhood dreams, rocking them back to sleep when the shots finally gave way to silence.  One day, a towering figure of a man had the courage to ask the thugs to stop shooting out the lights.  He became a constant target of the drug dealers over the next four years, presumably to make an example of him. 

 According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article dated May 23, 1992 by reporter Daniel Rubin,  Standing Up to the Druggies. Long Intimidated by the Dealers, These Residents are Fighting Back, the drug dealers stole his tools from his pickup truck, set his vehicle on fire, dug up his garden, took his dog and sent a child to deliver the message that he would come out of Liddonfield in a body bag. Withstanding repeated threats and attempts at intimidation, all six feet, four inches of Leonard Bartosik seemed to be made of iron.

During those four years, Bartosik made a lot of allies.  On May 18, 1992 drug activists from outside the project joined over 200 Liddonfield tenants who rallied together to support Bartosik and to take back Liddonfield from the drug dealers who invaded it.  They marched through the project, pointing out drug houses.  In his Daily News article dated May 19, 1992, Score One For the Good Guys, reporter Don Russell states “the marchers stopped at Bartosik’s back fence and applauded the quiet man for standing up to the dealers.”  While the majority of tenants stood united, outnumbering the smaller group of criminals, the thugs retreated, delaying any attempts at retaliation. 

After the Liddonfield protest was over the drug dealers returned to break down the tenants’ newfound confidence through means of ridicule.  They did this by staging their own mock protest on the grass in a spot where they did most of their drug dealing.  According to Don Russell’s aforementioned article, Hope Smith of Liddonfield stated, “They were giving each other high-fives, saying ‘Power to brothers, Black power.’ Stuff like that.”

It is interesting to note that during the mock protest, the thugs were reported to have resurrected a slogan from the 1970’s Black Power movement.  Their deliberate misuse of the black power slogan served as a tool to divide the Liddonfield majority along racial lines, thus weakening their opposition.  It was also meant to alienate Mr. Bartosik from his non-white allies.

The drug dealers became aware that solidarity of the many was a problem for them.  To reclaim the project, they sought to split up the majority.  The good Liddonfield brotherhood of close-knit neighbors and friends was multi-racial, with blacks comprising over 25% of the project tenants.  Mr. Bartosik was white.  Those who rallied in support of him were of different races, ordinary people with families who just wanted a safe place to live.  Ironically, the rally took place only a week after the anniversary of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.  *

THE MOVE BOMBING DESTROYED A CITY BLOCK
The criminal agitators at Liddonfield focused on tenants who chose to put racial differences aside at an especially vulnerable time, which was the anniversary of the MOVE bombing.  After their mock protest they attacked Bartosik again, knocking down his wooden fence, chasing him with two-by-fours and ramming them through his windows.They were reported to have said to a young black man who witnessed the assault on Bartosik, “Don’t testify.  Don’t die for a white man.”  

According to Don Russell’s aforementioned article, the Liddonfield tenants who marched against drugs returned with walkie-talkies and held a vigil outside Mr. Bartosik’s Liddonfield apartment at 4 a.m. Raymond Harris, President of Whitehall Area Town Watch, was one of those who stood guard.  He told Russell, “We had to do something to give the poor man some rest.”

* MOVE was a black liberation organization founded by John Africa.  The group engaged in back-to-nature communal living within its Osage Avenue row home, whose walls were fortified with telephone poles to render it impenetrable.  MOVE members also constructed a bunker on the roof.  Neighbors complained they shouted rhetoric through a bullhorn throughout the day and night and their composts attracted rats and other vermin.  On May 13, 1985 police attempted to arrest MOVE members who had warrants issued against them for various crimes, including parole violation and illegal possession of firearms.  During the stand-off with Philadelphia police that ensued, Mayor Wilson Goode gave the order to drop an “incendiary device” from a helicopter onto the roof in order to destroy the bunker. 

The device exploded, setting fire to the house.  Firefighters at the scene were instructed not to attempt to put out the blaze during the midst of the gunfire between police and MOVE members.  The blaze quickly spread and burned down an entire city block.  Just two MOVE members survived.  News of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia spread worldwide and worsened unresolved tensions between blacks and whites in the city. 

SOURCES:

Score One For the Good Guys,  Daily News, May 19, 1992, by reporter Don Russell

Standing Up to the Druggies. Long Intimidated by the Dealers, These Residents are Fighting Back, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 23, 1992 by reporter Daniel Rubin 

RELATED STORIES:

Part 10:  Northeast Civic Groups Grill Mayor Rendell

COMMENTS TIP:  Please do not include a link in the body of your comment. 

3 comments:

  1. In your previous entry you described yourself as a "lifelong Democrat and proud liberal." Just out of curiosity, does that mean you support the Democratic party's stance on gun control? The question obviously relates to this most recent post. Democrats in Pennsylvania have relentlessly fought against concealed carry and have done everything possible to make legal firearm ownership as difficult as possible in this state. They also opposed the Castle Doctrine passed by Republicans in the PA Legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett in 2011. So as a "proud liberal," do you side with the Democrats in opposing concealed carry and the Castle Doctrine?

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    1. The reason I am a liberal is that I strongly believe in the rights of the individual and that includes the right to bear arms and defend himself against threat of serious harm by another. I have no problem with the Castle Doctrine or concealed carry. In fact, in cases of domestic abuse and retaliation against innocent citizens by criminal elements, some people may be helped by it. I am a liberal before I am a democrat. I don't feel I have to agree with the Democratic party on every issue.

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  2. Huh. Looks like the Obama Administration is imploding before our very eyes. Still think the Tea Party crowd is a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists? Because just about everything they've ever said has been now been proven to be true. And you've got to love the irony of the lap-dog AP being the target of illegal DOJ spying! Sweet. Better watch what I say here or Obama will send the IRS after me...

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