Bishop Benjamin Fisher arrived at his church, Greater Bethel Temple in Frankford, to a mad panic of police cruisers and the clack of gunfire.
In his 25 years serving the Frankford congregation, he had grown familiar with the relentless gun violence in the high poverty neighborhood at the toes of Northeast Philly. In November, just a few blocks away, a 10-year-old boy was shot in the head while walking home from school with his uncle, who exchanged gunfire with the shooter.
But Fisher had never seen an incident of this magnitude.
“80 to 100 shots,” he said. “It was inundated. They were firing back and forth.”
Around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania parole officers attempted to serve a warrant on the 4600 block of Hawthorne Street, a block away from Greater Bethel Temple.
There, a man barricaded himself in a Frankford rowhome and allegedly shot at police. The alleged assailant was fatally hit by SWAT team gunfire and pronounced dead at 2:52 p.m., according to PPD Deputy Commissioner Robin Wimberly. No other injuries have been reported.
Frankford Library, which is a five minute walk from where the incident took place, was closed in response to the shooting, and at least six nearby schools were placed on lockdown. The standoff also kept state Rep. Jason Dawkins inside his nearby office for several hours.
This shootout appeared to be another instance of police serving a routine warrant to a suspect — and things going awry.
For Fisher and other neighbors, the memory of this summer’s 7-hour standoff in North Philadelphia’s Tioga section still lingered fresh in their minds.At a certain point when the gunfire ceased, Fisher leaned out to ask a police officer whether he thought this would continue through the night.
“We thought it was gonna be similar to what it was last summer. We thought it was going to be a peaceful resolution…we thought he was going to be able to come out,” Fisher said. “What they said was it wasn’t going to go on ‘nearly as long as that.’”
‘We suffer this trauma on a daily basis’
In the shadow of the El train on Frankford Avenue, state Rep. Jason Dawkins was holed up in his office with his staff.
The chaotic standoff between SWAT officers was a block away. Dawkins, a 35-year-old lawmaker who has been representing Frankford since 2015, lives a block from his office, and he intended to stay put until the situation cleared.
“I can’t even get home because of this,” Dawkins said from his office at around 3:30 p.m. “This is the reality that most folks who live in areas like Frankford, we suffer with this trauma on a daily basis.”
Constituents milled in and out of his storefront office as bullets flew in the distance. Everyone was nonplussed.
All of the nearby schools that were locked down on Thursday — Allen M. Stearne, Ethan Allen, John Marshall, James J. Sullivan, Warren G. Harding and Frankford High were placed on lockdown — have had at least one lockdown in the past decade. Harding Middle School has been placed on lockdown at least 10 times over that period, per data compiled by Billy Penn.
Philadelphia ended the year with 356 homicides — the city’s highest body count in well over a decade. Mayor Jim Kenney promised fighting the scourge would be the number one goal of his second term in office, which commenced this week. Local and state officials like Dawkins have also been feeling the pressure.
Yet change comes slow to North Philly.
A week into the New Year, Dawkins had already attended a funeral for a 20-something man in his neighborhood — Malik Milburn. The 27-year-old was one of the first people gunned down in 2020, along with Javon Cooper, 24, after a fight broke out on New Year’s Day. A woman bystander was also shot in the incident.
While most street shootings last less than a minute, the standoff on Hawthorne Street was well into its second hour when the gunfire stopped. Such protracted shootouts stand out in people’s minds, but the everyday brutality is all too common.
The day after Milburn and Cooper were killed, Frankford-based St. Mark’s Church and the Padre Pio Prayer Center held a peace vigil to foster community healing. “[O]ur community is again left in mourning in the wake of this latest shooting that left two young adults dead just a few blocks from our church,” organizers wrote.
In November, The Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia and Black Men Engaging Neighborhoods held a neighborhood engagement walk in the neighborhood to “help stop the violence and mayhem in our city.”
One Frankford resident who’s lived in the community for about 15 years said that crime in the community has increased noticeably in recent years.
“We all at this point download the Citizens app,” the neighbor, who spoke from a local CDC and asked to remain anonymous, told Billy Penn. “If there isn’t a shooting going on, there is someone wielding a knife or stealing from the store. There’s constantly an update, every few hours.”
The person, who said they grew up in nearby Juniata, noted an uptick in drug activity in Frankford in the last few years.
“The same thing that’s happening in lower Kensington,” they said, “it’s just bringing it up this way as well.”