Fishtown: Dealing with crime on West Thompson Street

Two men committed an armed robbery on the 100 block of West Thompson in Fishtown on Tuesday, March 18 at 2:05 a.m. The two suspects approached the victims wielding guns and demanded they empty their pockets. When one of the victims refused to give up his belongings, one of the suspects fired three shots, one of which hit the victim in the leg.

Video footage showed the suspects fleeing from the scene and the victim falling to the ground. The 25-year-old was transported to Temple University hospital. The suspects have not been found.

Man jogging near 100 block of Thompson Street in Fishtown.
Man jogging near 100 block of Thompson Street in Fishtown.

Armed robberies are not new on this block. In 2012, a robbery attempt resulted in a death, when two young robbers’ guns were mistaken for fakes.

Residents, however, aren’t scared. In fact, very few know about the incident.

Urban designer and local resident Nate Hommel said he hasn’t heard anyone in the neighborhood talking about the incident and doubts it will deter residents from taking the Market-Frankford line train that runs straight through the area and has a nearby stop.

When Hommel first moved to the block, he said, he remembered neighbors telling him what he should and should not do at certain times of the night.

He also noted that there seems to be a distinct difference between the two sides of Front Street. One side of the street leads to Kensington and the other side leads you into Fishtown.

However, Hommel said he believes things have changed from the time he first moved to the block. The changes that Fishtown is undergoing are due to new businesses and more money being funneled into the neighborhood.  Since the increase of revenue, Hommel has found that the streets become more active which could both entice and deter robbers.

Residents still have not decided if the new shops, bars and restaurants are helping or harming with regard to crime like burglary.

“The business brings more people on the street,” said Hommel. “I suppose the more people walking around, the more they’re assumed to have valuable things.”

Kate Micklow Harwan, president of the Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA), feels an increase in these kinds of crimes comes with living in a city environment.

“There’s not really a whole lot we can do,” Harwan said. “We’re a civic organization, not the Philadelphia Police Department. We can only insist that residents take safety precautions. There also has to be self-awareness that we live in a city in the modern-day world.”

On the corner of Thompson and Frankford.

These precautions pertain to being aware of your surroundings at night and not walking alone during certain hours. Hommel said he feels this is a small price to pay for living in Fishtown, a neighborhood quickly becoming a lively arts and entertainment hub.

“We’re far better off having a vibrant retail scene with people walking around,” says Hommel. “I wouldn’t trade lower crime for less retail and options on our street.”

Not everyone feels the same. Erica Markley has lived in Fishtown all her life and has seen the neighborhood change. Markley blamed not only drug addiction to the recent crimes but the rise of new businesses and the arrival of new residents who fail to create a connection with those who have traditionally lived in the neighborhood. Markley attribute these poor relations to the rise in crime.

However, residents who live on or near the 100 block of West Thompson did not mention moving to another block or neighborhood as a personal solution.

Ashley Hunter, daytime bartender in Fishtown. Her bar is at the corner of Thompson Street and Frankford Avenue.
Ashley Hunter, daytime bartender in Fishtown. Her bar is at the corner of Thompson Street and Frankford Avenue.

No one is too sure where the robbers are coming from. Though Fishtown is changing rapidly, a few residents believe there are still many low-income families that live in the area that see theft as a means of providing for their families. They also attribute Fishtown’s history with drug addiction to the crime rate. There are speculations that the culprits don’t live in the neighborhood at all.

Some dread, though, that as the weather gets warmer, crime will increase. Derrien Myers moved to Fishtown from West Philadelphia about one year ago and noted the increase in crime in correlation with the increase in temperature.

“One time someone was killed around here,” said Myers. “It gets worse as it gets warmer. It makes the block worse. People feel they can’t walk their dog or go to the store. It’s horrible.”

All the residents agreed on one thing: the Philadelphia Police Department needs to get involved. Talk of community-watch teams have surfaced as means to take matters into the hands of the neighborhood citizens.

Harwan believes that the Philadelphia Police Department is suffering from budget cuts, thus impacting the safety of not only her block, but the entire neighborhood.

“I think the police department does the best they can with the resources they are given,” said Harwan. “They are working with less.”

Text by Sofiya Ballin. Video by Layla A. Jones

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