One of the officials Port Richmond residents turned to last week in the wake of a mob attack that left Mark Lavelle and his family shaken — and an entire community on edge — was state Rep. John Taylor (R- 177th dist).
Taylor joined Lavelle in a meeting with several other officials, including 24th Police District commander Capt. Tom Davidson and representatives from the Human Relations Commission, an arm of the city that deals with neighbor disputes.
Taylor said that the local police district reacted quickly and made arrests, but he still wants to see the city take the situation more seriously.
“Our job is to make sure that everyone is doing their job,” said Taylor. “With police, that seems to have been the case.”
He said the fight did lead to more police presence in the area, and not just in front of Lavelle’s house.
“We wanted to make sure there was some temporary attention to the area at least over the next few weeks, and there have been extra squad cars and bike cops and some helicopters out there,” said Taylor.
Still, the state representative said more must be done to keep future violence from occurring in the neighborhood.
“It’s been a constant refrain over the years — disorderly crowds gathering at Stokely, at A&W, at Campbell Square. Even when I was kid, that was the case,” Taylor said of the unruly crowds that gathered at area parks and playgrounds the weekend Lavelle was attacked.
“If they drink and carry on at night, they’re breaking the law and they shouldn’t be there,” said Taylor. “But when it gets to the point where it’s creating violence, that’s the difference between a disorderly crowd and a powder keg. When that happens, it has to become a priority to deal with that.”
He’s hoping the incident will get more people in the neighborhood involved in civic groups and the Port Richmond Town Watch.
“If just twelve percent of the people in the neighborhood participated in the town watch, that would make a major difference,” said Taylor.
After the incident, Taylor met with the Lavelle family in a conference that included the Human Relations Commission — which talked to the parents of some of the minors involved in the melee — victim assistance officers and community relations officers.
Taylor said many residents who contacted his office wanted to know why the situation was allowed to reach a point where Lavelle and his family were threatened in his home.
But he also thinks some of the coverage of the incident was heavy handed.
“So much has been blown out of proportion,” said Taylor, taking issue with television reports that described the incident as a flash mob.
While neighborhood brawls are nothing new, Taylor did say things have changed and that fights these days can lead to something much worse.
“In this day and age, unfortunately, it can escalate quickly and you have some groups that don’t seem to care about the consequences,” said Taylor. “I mean, if you’re going to come back into the neighborhood with guns and pipes, you have to know that somebody is going to get hurt and somebody is going to get arrested.”
Taylor said his understanding was that the incident got started over a small disagreement earlier in the evening.
“From what I was told, there was a minor dust-up and the cops were all over it. The kids left, but then they came back and the cops were there within minutes and made several arrests,” said Taylor. “But when you have people busting into someone’s house, it’s much more of a priority than just some disorderly crowd. You have to nip that in the bud.”
In the week following the attack, racial tensions have escalated, and some fear that there will be more clashes between white residents and minorities.
Not helping the matter are posters attached to utility poles across the neighborhood by the white supremacy group Keystone United. The poster uses a picture of Mark Lavelle taken from his Facebook page and states “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! HOW MUCH MORE DO WE HAVE TO TAKE!”
Lavelle has publicly decried any talk of retaliation, saying he wants to see a peaceful solution.
To Taylor, that means taking groups that gather in public places late a night and drink more seriously.
“They have a right to be out there, but they don’t have a right to be drunk and disorderly,” Taylor said.
The incident also lead to some positives, like a coin drop that was held at Campbell Square over the weekend to raise money to repair the Lavelle’s door. Also, about a dozen new faces came out for a Port Richmond Town Watch patrol last Friday.
This Friday, residents plan to meet at Stokely Playground, Thompson and Indiana, for a 7 p.m. meeting that explores how residents can make the park and surrounding area safer.••