David Oh was stabbed on as sleepy a block as you could picture for a Southwest Philly area that bustles just a few streets over.
Houses line only one side of the street on 5800 Thomas Avenue, facing a massive lot overgrown with weeds, trees and abandoned buildings. Cobbs Creek Park is down the street. Less than two blocks over around one corner is the Korean Presbyterian Church started by Oh’s father. Around the other corner is Southwest Philadelphia Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
A member of that church, who declined to provide his name, said Oh’s street has long been known as somewhat of an oasis.
“Literally that block, it’s just nothing,” he said. “It’s not very heavily populated.”
Oh was stabbed in front of his house Wednesday night in what’s being categorized as a robbery attempt. He’s expected to make a full recovery.
The church member who spoke to Billy Penn said Oh has been a long-respected member of the community, an unusual Korean face in a mostly black neighborhood. According to city records, he and his family owns every property on the 5800 block of Thomas Avenue except one. They’ve owned there since 1968.
Archived articles about Oh over the years — no longer available online — describe a lawyer and politician who remained loyal to his neighborhood. He grew up on Thomas Avenue and, unlike most of his siblings, has continued living on the block. In the early 1990s, he was a one-man team of the public interest Asian Law Center, working on Thomas Avenue outside of the In Ho Oh Memorial Korean Center.
The In Ho Oh Center was named after Oh’s late cousin. He was killed in Powelton while a student at Penn. Oh announced his first run for Council, in 2003, standing next to his cousin’s grave.
Though Oh is an at-large councilman, some of his legislation and resolutions have focused on Southwest Philly. The last few months, for instance, he’s challenged an ordinance that forces Chinese takeout places to close at 11 p.m., citing spots in the area near where he lives.
When talking about his neighborhood growing up and 20-plus years ago, he described it as having gangs and prostitutes. Oh even had his own issues with crime. According to a 2011 Daily News article, Oh was questioned about pulling guns in his neighborhood three times in the 1990s, two of which he denied. In 1995, he faced charges and a non-jury trial for shooting in the air at a group he thought were prostitutes and drug dealers on his block but were actually undercover police. Oh was acquitted. He told the Daily News, he was “the only order on that street at one point in time.”
On his block and the 5800 blocks of adjacent Ashland Avenue and Whitby Avenue, six crimes have been committed in the last six months, according to police department statistics. One was an aggravated assault, the other five were not violent crimes or even thefts. Fourteen more crimes were committed in the same timeframe in the 5700 blocks of Thomas, Ashland and Whitby avenues, including two rapes, two aggravated assaults, a burglary and a theft.
The morning after Oh’s stabbing, a police officer was sitting in the driver’s seat of a squad car on the block of 5800 Thomas Avenue. An NBC-10 TV van was on 58th Street. Otherwise, the area was quiet. Hardly anybody was even walking around or waiting at the bus stop at 58th and Thomas.
Oh once explained how the reason why he stayed so long on Thomas Avenue stemmed from his father and the work he did for the neighborhood as a church leader and mentor to Korean immigrants.
“From the time I was very young,” Oh said in a 2012 interview with the Daily News, “I kept asking him, ‘Why live here?’ His answer was, ‘This is a God-blessed neighborhood.’ As I grew older, I came to understand what he meant and to agree with him. It’s about the people, the spiritual values.”