Google Hunting Park. Count the articles on death, shootings, stabbings and assaults. Now count those that actually took place in the neighborhood.
For over 30 years, Hunting Park residents have been fighting the neighorhood’s notorious reputation as “The Badlands.” an ambiguous section of North Philadelphia and the 25th Police District labeled as a hub of drugs and violence. By that definition, “The Badlands” includes Juniata Park, Feltonville and Fairhill, among other parts of North Philadelphia. The media frequently lump the district into one convenient catch phrase—Hunting Park.
Leroy Fisher, president of Hunting Park United, said that the last thing residents need is another story that ignores positive community action to focus on violence—especially violence that happens miles from the neighborhood’s boundaries.
Poverty, overcrowding and crime are real problems in Hunting Park. Widening boundaries to include outside crime fuels existing stigmas against the neighborhood.
“That’s just a black eye every time you use the catch phrase ‘Hunting Park’ for anything that’s negative,” Fisher said. “It’s easy enough to look at the boundaries and say, ‘Well, that’s technically not Hunting Park.'”
As a lifelong resident, Fisher said he constantly notices crime stories with a Hunting Park label that actually happened outside the Hunting Park neighborhood.
“Every media outlet—from the papers to the six o’clock news to the 11 o’clock news—’Man shot in Hunting Park’,” Fisher said, illustrating a headline. “But it really happened in Kensington or it happened somewhere else.”
Fisher said that Hunting Park has a bigger, catchier name than neighborhoods like Juniata or Frankford. Yet Hunting Park’s population is smaller than Juniata’s and Frankford’s.
Over-inflating Hunting Park’s coverage with crime stories from other areas pushes positive stories off the agenda, causing outside fear and reluctance to approach the neighborhood.
Fisher said that changing perception of the neighborhood is one of the greatest challenges faced.
“Every year we kept 400 kids involved in football and cheerleading and it didn’t get the notoriety that one shooting would get,” Fisher said, referring to two of the park’s many programs.
Fisher said that the community would hold banquets to reward young athletes for national championships and honor achievements, but not one camera would show. “You have those same 400 kids come out with sticks or bats fighting each other, you’d have every media outlet in the world here.”
Just outside Fisher’s office on the second floor of the Hunting Park Recreation Center, a youth martial arts class practiced barefoot in dark uniforms. In the gym below, children screamed and ran around, swinging bats. Indoor baseball practice was about to begin.