Kensington: Most Residents Unaffected by Recent Tragedy

Maria Colon remembers her son]

Residents on East Cumberland Street were unaffected by their neighbor’s recent accidental shooting as many claimed tragedy is a pattern the neighborhood can’t stop.

When an 18-year-old male put a 9 mm pistol to his head and accidentally shot himself on the 1900 block of East Cumberland Street, the news was taken by many neighbors as a normal neighborhood occurrence.

Officer Jillian Russell of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Public Affairs unit confirmed that the incident, which occurred on at 1:15 a.m. on June 6, took place in the victim’s bedroom while he was using a video-chat service.

During the video chat, the victim’s friend challenged his manhood, causing the victim to grab his 22-year-old brother’s handgun — which he believed was not loaded — point it to his own head and pull the trigger.

Maria Colon decorated her car in memory of her son.

The Colon family’s son (authorities and family have asked the victim’s name not be made public) was pronounced dead June 7 at Temple University Hospital.

The devastating news was not shocking to most neighbors, who have lived on the same street for more than 15 years.

“We’re a community who has become desensitized to this kind of crime,” said Pastor Jose Carrera of the Urban Worship Center, which is located on the same block.

Each neighbor has had at least one encounter with murders, drug-related fights and rapes close to their homes. As a result, it has caused a familiarity with violence and a less than optimistic attitude on finding solutions.

Beverly Sidorski, a resident of East Cumberland Street, explained her reasoning for the community’s lack of involvement.

“No one wants to be the snitch,” Sidorski said. “If someone holding anything illegal found out a person on this block told on them to the authorities, it would just be pure hell.”

Gun violence is a constant problem for Kensington residents. According to Philadelphia Police Crime and Statistics, from January to June 2011 in Kensington’s District 26, there were 24 reported shooting victims, which includes accidental and self-inflicted gunshots.

A neighbor rode his bike pass the victim's brick house.

Resident Paul Banguiler, whose mother also lives on the block, recounted his own sister’s death, which happened inches away from the place he’s called home his whole life.

“Blanche was a victim of a random drive-by shooting,” Banguiler said. “She died 17 years ago, when she was just 19.”

Despite Banguiler’s painful memories, he continues to live there.

“I don’t go outside at night anymore,” Banguiler said. “It’s not worth it to me.”

Jose Perez, a 17-year-old resident of the block and father of two children, said he thinks leaving isn’t a choice.

“I can’t do anything but stay here,” Perez said. “I’m not going to sell everything I’ve worked hard for because of other people.”

Perez said people carry guns in his neighborhood because of pride and protection.

“[With gangs] its kind of like, ‘this is my territory, so get out,’” Perez said. “When people around here get into fights, they don’t let anything go.”

While fear, pride and protection play a part, Max Nacheman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun-violence-prevention organization, explains the social pressures of carrying a gun.

“People are willing to accept the legal responsibilities of carrying a gun,” Nacheman said. “They don’t want to accept the social risks of not carrying one.”

When it comes to responsibility, the block is split on the issue of gun ownership. Many neighbors said they own guns to protect themselves from the criminals who carry guns, while others prefer not to own guns because they have children in the house.

In the case of the victim, police are still investigating whether his 22-year-old brother’s gun was purchased illegally.

According to the Legal Community Against Violence organization, in the United States, firearm injuries are the cause of death of more than 18 children and young adults ages 24 years and under.

More than 75 percent of guns used in unintentional injuries for young adults ages 19 years and under are stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend.

While many neighbors on the block have legally registered guns for safety, others turn to religion for protection.

East Cumberland Street stayed quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

The Urban Worship Center, which serves the neighborhood children with program0s like vacation Bible school and mission trips, moved from Kensington Avenue and Hagert Street to the 2000 block of East Cumberland Street to save the community.

“We felt that the lord brought us here, and that our mission is to impact this neighborhood,” Carrera said.

Along with creating a safe place for the neighborhood kids, Carrera said his goal is to beautify the outside of the building so that it no longer looks abandoned.

After working in the neighborhood for three years, Carrera said he believes it’s time for a change in the way people see this kind of violence.

“It’s heartbreaking when a young person dies and we think it’s normal,” Carrera said. “We need to come together as a community and realize that these children need our help.”

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