It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
In the past, John Boswell, owner of the Port Richmond Pour House at the corner of Clearfield and Wiekel streets, had held a few informal conversations with his neighbors discussing the possibility of creating a community organization for the part of the neighborhood west of Aramingo Avenue.
It’s an area, he said, that is underrepresented and could use an organized group of neighbors working for the benefit of the entire community.
In planning a meeting that was held Wednesday evening, Sept. 28, Boswell said he expected a few residents, calm discussion and planning intended to help create a community association.
But, instead, Boswell quickly found his establishment flooded with fired-up residents — more than 50 stuffed into the small bar, standing shoulder-to-shoulder — ready to decry the problem of drugs and violence in the community.
At 4 p.m. that day, three people were shot — including a 23-year-old woman, a 19-year-old man and a 50-year-old man, none fatally — at Wiekel and Ann streets. Residents who came to Boswell’s meeting said they were fed up with the state of the neighborhood and were willing to do whatever it might take to make a change.
“I have no real agenda. I just wanted to get people together, learn some faces and names,” Boswell told the crowd.
Boswell suggested calling the group the West Aramingo Community Action Committee.
It’s also been called the West Port Richmond Community Action Network, but nothing has been finalized.
D. Michael Blackie, a neighborhood resident and community representative for the Mayor’s Office of Community Services, said he believes the boundaries of the new group would cover the area from Lehigh Avenue to Westmoreland Street, between Aramingo and Frankford avenues.
“There’s nothing here. There’s nothing that represents this side,” said Blackie. “We need to bring city services to this community … We want to have a voice that City Hall will hear.”
However, Patty-Pat Kozlowski, president of Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic association, said that her group tries to address concerns throughout that area.
She said PROPAC covers areas from the Delaware River to the Trenton Avenue bridge, between Lehigh Avenue and the Frankford Creek.
But, she noted, this large coverage area can leave residents wanting something more focused within their immediate area.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said, of the plan for a group to support areas west of Aramingo Avenue. “More power to them. I don’t think it could hurt; there’s more power in numbers.”
Yet, as the meeting began, it seemed flared tempers took the place of rational conversation as the conversation dissolved into a shouting match.
The noise level hit a crescendo when a resident, who refused to give his name to a reporter, screamed that any action to remove drug dealers from the community might have police “treat us the way they should treat them.”
“We don’t want to be the ones getting locked up to defend ourselves,” he yelled.
However, Boswell was able to calm tensions after the man stormed out by continuing the conversation and getting everyone in the room involved.
“We can’t solve the problem tonight, but by getting together, we can start the process,” he said. “We aren’t going to solve the big problem today.”
To start, he said, he hopes to schedule community clean ups and get garbage cans installed along area streets to reduce the amount of litter.
“If we start small, we can work big,” agreed Tracey DiCapua, a mother of four who lives on Tulip Street. “We are all here, we are all neighbors, let’s be neighbors together.”
“We are sick of you selling heroin on the block,” said Boswell, talking about drug sales in the community. “It’s not about winning or losing. We are sick of our neighborhood looking like sh*t all the time.”
As the crowd rallied in support of the burgeoning organization, Boswell said he would commit as much time as possible to helping grow the group, if it helped make the neighborhood a cleaner, safer place to live.
“I will invest as much time and as much money as I can, while feeding my family, to make this neighborhood less scary for my son,” said Boswell.
At the end of the meeting, it seemed many neighbors agreed.
“I live here; someone else isn’t scaring me away,” said Blackie.
“I’m tired of the drugs on the corner. I mean, I find needles on my porch,” said DiCapua. “This is a positive thing. We’ve all just got the nibble at the cookie to take a big bite.”
Maryanne Trombetta, president of the Port Richmond Town Watch and a resident of Tulip Street, said the creation of a group to address problems in the community west of Aramingo Avenue was a “step in the right direction.”
“I think it’s a good move,” she said. ••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org