Mob madness in Port Richmond

Res­id­ents in Port Rich­mond are grap­pling with a vari­ety of is­sues after an angry mob at­tacked a fam­ily in their In­di­ana Street home on Sept. 9.

On the quiet morn­ing of Fri­day, Sept. 16, sun­shine warmed the air as a breeze blew down a nearly empty In­di­ana Av­en­ue in Port Rich­mond.

A few res­id­ents wandered the side­walks, and a lone po­lice car idled in the street as people passed by.

The se­rene scene is a far cry from the vi­ol­ence that took place ex­actly a week earli­er.

That night, at about 11 p.m., a mob of angry as­sail­ants set their sights on Mark Lav­elle, a 37-year-old Phil­adelphia Park­ing Au­thor­ity work­er who serves as a coach for loc­al youth soc­cer teams, kick­ing in his front door and at­tack­ing him in front of his hor­ri­fied wife and chil­dren.

“When it happened, I saw my­self at St. Anne’s, and my wife and kids were put­ting me in a coffin,” Lav­elle said last week.

Why it happened re­mains a mys­tery.

The shock­ingly vi­ol­ent in­cid­ent star­ted when Lav­elle was filling his car with soc­cer equip­ment in pre­par­a­tion for prac­tices last week­end. He said he saw about six or sev­en vehicles pull up and park haphaz­ardly around Liv­ing­ston Street and In­di­ana Av­en­ue.

People poured out of the vehicles — men and wo­men, kids and adults — hold­ing weapons and seem­ingly up­set.

“When they got out of the cars, they were in a rage,” he re­called.

As a tick­et­ing em­ploy­ee for the PPA, Lav­elle said his im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was to get li­cense plate num­bers in case the angry mob star­ted trouble.

As he stood at the cars, he said, two young boys, “about 13 or 14 years old” ap­proached him and asked if they could wait at his house un­til the mob passed through the neigh­bor­hood.

Lav­elle said they boys lived on an­oth­er block but were afraid to walk near the mob.

“I for­get where they said where they were from, but they wer­en’t be­ing chased. These kids wer­en’t run­ning,” said Lav­elle. “They were pet­ri­fied, scared.”

Hop­ing to help, Lav­elle walked the boys to­ward his home, when he heard calls com­ing from his back.

“I looked back over my shoulder and there they were,” he said of the mob. “I just heard “let’s get those motherf**kers.’”

Lav­elle said he in­stantly ushered the boys in­to his home while he stood on his stoop to talk to the mob of about 30 people.

“I said that I was just be­ing curi­ous” in look­ing at the cars, said Lav­elle. “Then someone said ‘Something’s gonna hap­pen now, white boy’ and they began kick­ing in the door.”

When the door came loose after be­ing re­peatedly kicked, the as­sail­ants entered the home. Lav­elle said the first man to enter hit him with a pipe as an­oth­er man fol­lowed, punch­ing Lav­elle as he fell to the floor.

Look­ing up, Lav­elle said, he could see his chil­dren watch­ing the at­tack and he heard his wife call­ing his name.

“I got some kind of ad­ren­aline or something,” he said.

Lav­elle got to his feet and pushed some of the at­tack­ers out of his home. An­oth­er man pro­duced a gun, Lav­elle said, and the two struggled un­til someone yelled for the po­lice.

The mob fled shortly after.

After the at­tack, po­lice ap­pre­hen­ded Bergson Mor­in, 22, of the 4700 block of Rose­hill St. in Felton­ville, and charged him with ag­grav­ated as­sault, two gun charges — po­lice be­lieve he’s the man who pro­duced the gun dur­ing the struggle — and charges re­lated to crim­in­al tres­pass for break­ing in­to the home.

The man po­lice be­lieve at­tacked Lav­elle with a pipe, En­rique Del­gado, 32, of the 200 block of Elean­or St. in Felton­ville, also was ap­pre­hen­ded and charged with as­sault and tres­pass, as was a 17-year-old boy po­lice have not iden­ti­fied.

De­tails aren’t clear

Ac­cord­ing to Capt. Tom Dav­id­son of the city’s 24th Po­lice Dis­trict, au­thor­it­ies still are not sure why the in­di­vidu­als came to the neigh­bor­hood in the first place.

“We still don’t know. It’s still un­clear,” said Dav­id­son dur­ing an in­ter­view last week. “Nobody wants to come for­ward with any­thing con­crete as to why this happened.”

Asked if this in­cid­ent could be in­vest­ig­ated as a hate crime be­cause of ra­cial threats or if any oth­ers could be charged in re­la­tion to the in­cid­ent, Dav­id­son said the city’s Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice is still in­vest­ig­at­ing.

“At this stage, we are hop­ing it’s an isol­ated in­cid­ent. Oth­er­wise, we are stay­ing on top of it,” said the cap­tain.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Soon after the at­tacks, ra­cial ten­sions flared in the neigh­bor­hood. Lav­elle and the two boys are white; most of the people in the mob were black or His­pan­ic.

The next day, Lav­elle said, a group of people, in­clud­ing the moth­er of one of the three people who were ar­res­ted, showed up at his front door to threaten re­tri­bu­tion.

“She said, ‘you got my son locked up be­cause you’re white and he’s black,’” re­called Lav­elle about an in­cid­ent that oc­curred at around 3 p.m. the next day.

But, Lav­elle countered that not only does he have a mixed-race fam­ily — in fact, he has a black neph­ew that lives with him — he used to live in Kens­ing­ton and he ran a deli where some of the people who con­fron­ted him that day had once shopped.

“They called me ‘Mr. Mark’,” re­called Lav­elle. “I said, ‘you know me.’ ”

Some of the 10 to 15 people there that day began to turn after the re­cog­nized Lav­elle, but he said the moth­er wouldn’t leave so eas­ily.

“She said ‘that’s only if you make it to court, you white moth­er f**ker.’”

Lav­elle com­plained that after that in­cid­ent, he called po­lice as many as 22 times, only to fi­nally have an of­ficer show up and stay for a few hours. Lav­elle moved his fam­ily out for a few nights and his home is now con­tinu­ously mon­itored by a po­lice car out front.

Just wait­ing to hap­pen?

But, for this com­munity, the at­tacks seemed like something that had been brew­ing for some time.

“People gath­er in these parks al­most every week­end,” said Mary­ann Trombetta, pres­id­ent of the Port Rich­mond Town Watch.

That week­end, she said, van­dals left crudely drawn swastikas scrawled all over Camp­bell Square on Al­legheny Av­en­ue and she said it’s not un­com­mon to see groups of kids and adults gath­er­ing to drink in area parks and play­grounds.

Neigh­bors be­lieve the fight that even­tu­ally in­truded on the Lav­elle house­hold stemmed from a rowdy crowd at Stokely Play­ground, loc­ated just down the street at Thompson and In­di­ana.

“It’s just a total night­mare,” she said. “They con­stantly do this … It hap­pens all year round.”

Ben Mannes, a Port Rich­mond homeown­er and founder of Phil­adelphi­ans for Eth­ic­al Lead­er­ship, said he’s seen ra­cial ten­sions in the com­munity in the past, but he’s nev­er seen it bubble up like it did for Lav­elle.

“People here are scared [the neigh­bor­hood] could go down the path that Kens­ing­ton went down,” he said.

After the at­tacks, when a “Where is the Me­dia?” page ap­peared on Face­book, Mannes said the page was in re­sponse to what he be­lieved was “bad re­port­ing in the me­dia” on ra­cially tinged in­cid­ents in Port Rich­mond.

“There is ten­sion here, but there are also plenty of black fam­il­ies here that are fine,” he said.

Yet, Lav­elle said that the prob­lem isn’t groups of kids hanging out drink­ing in area parks. In fact, that con­cern was re­cently brought up in a meet­ing held Wed­nes­day, Sept. 14, when Lav­elle met with Cap­tain Dav­id­son, rep­res­ent­at­ives from state Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th) of­fice, rep­res­ent­at­ives from the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice and the Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion.

“I told them we can’t just be crit­ic­al of kids drink­ing on the corner, be­cause you did that when you were their age,” said Lav­elle.

As a youth or­gan­izer for sports, Lav­elle said that fol­low­ing the at­tacks, he’s heard neigh­bors cri­ti­ciz­ing everything from loc­al kids to en­tire eth­ni­cit­ies, and he said that bick­er­ing and com­plain­ing would not solve the prob­lem.

“If you’re go­ing to point a fin­ger, lend a hand,” he said.

Still on edge 

On the street dur­ing Fri­day morn­ing last week, res­id­ents walk­ing the side­walks on In­di­ana Av­en­ue said they knew about the in­cid­ent, but didn’t fear re­tali­ation.

In fact, An­ita Quinn, who lives just a few blocks away on Bel­grade Street and is in her 70s, said the in­cid­ent that happened to Lav­elle was the first she’s heard of that kind of mob-style vi­ol­ence in Port Rich­mond.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of something hap­pen­ing so close,” she said. “I’m a little leery, I guess, but I wouldn’t let fear keep me in my house.”

Greg Ware­necki agreed, say­ing the neigh­bor­hood has changed in re­cent years, but he doesn’t see the re­cent at­tack as a sign that the neigh­bor­hood has suc­cumbed to crime and vi­ol­ence.

“It’s really a shame. The neigh­bor­hood has changed, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “But, that [kind of at­tack] is just un­heard of around here.”

Things are slowly get­ting back to nor­mal for Lav­elle’s fam­ily as well.

Lav­elle said last Thursday was the first even­ing his wife would re­turn to stay with him in the house. His fam­ily, he said, was shaken to the core by the at­tack.

“My el­ev­en-year-old still will not sleep here,” he said.

The fath­er of twins said that even now, his wife is un­com­fort­able in her own home.

“Last night was the first night she stayed here since then and even then, she’s been up every ten minutes to make sure the po­lice car is still there,” said Lav­elle.

Yet, even with the stress, Lav­elle said he would do it again if it meant sav­ing the lives of the two boys who he took to his home.

“I would have done it again in a heart­beat. I saved those kids’ lives,” he said.

Cur­rently, he’s work­ing with the 24th Dis­trict’s com­munity re­la­tions of­ficers and he said he’d like to see po­lice re­spond more quickly when called to in­cid­ents throughout the com­munity, in case something like this hap­pens again.

“Neigh­bors need to know that they can stand up and someone will be there to pro­tect them,” said Lav­elle.••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 


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