UPDATE: Neighbors fear racial motivation in Pop's destruction

Res­id­ents were shocked last week when they awoke Tues­day morn­ing to see that the bas­ket­ball court at Pop’s Play­ground, a pop­u­lar park loc­ated just six blocks north of Fishtown, had been des­troyed.

“I mean, they cut through 3-inch steel beams,” said Robin Sem­mel­roth, a Kens­ing­ton res­id­ent and vo­lun­teer with The Friends of Pop’s, a non­profit that worked to trans­form the pub­lic space from a con­crete pad where il­li­cit activ­ity thrived to a vi­able com­munity space and na­tion­ally re­cog­nized skate board­ing park.

“Who­ever did this must have bought spe­cial tools,” said Sem­mel­roth.

While res­id­ents first sus­pec­ted the crime was van­dal­ism or an at­tempt to scrap the met­al for cash, those who work with the play­ground now be­lieve the in­tent may have been a ra­cially mo­tiv­ated ef­fort to drive away black and His­pan­ic youth who play bas­ket­ball there.

“We have been asked over the years by some res­id­ents to take out the bas­ket­ball courts, and the ar­gu­ment was that [the kids us­ing them] wer­en’t ‘from the neigh­bor­hood’,” said Sem­mel­roth.

She and oth­ers see that lan­guage as thinly veiled ra­cism from some long-time white res­id­ents.

Tom Potts, a nat­ive of the area and pres­id­ent of the Friends of Pop’s, de­scribed that at­ti­tude as sad, but not un­com­mon.

“The kids that play there are from all races, and they all get along, so we cer­tainly don’t think it was the kids,” said Potts. “Some one from the com­munity came here and did this in­ten­tion­ally, and the only thing we can de­duct is that they didn’t want kids play­ing there.”

While he said there is no way to say for cer­tain that des­troy­ing the courts — two nets at the cen­ter were re­moved, leav­ing just two shorts posts — was ra­cially mo­tiv­ated, Potts de­scribed Pop’s as one of the few loc­al play­grounds where kids from all back­grounds so­cial­ize on a reg­u­lar basis.

That was cer­tainly true last Thursday, as youth dar­ted about in the ad­ja­cent skate park and played half-ball on one of the re­main­ing nets.

Potts said activ­ity was way down, es­pe­cially on a day when pub­lic schools were closed.

“It was pain­ful to watch,” ad­mit­ted Potts, who said the courts had been there since 1969.

The in­cid­ent comes on the heels of a clash between a mob of angry black and His­pan­ic res­id­ents and a white fam­ily in Port Rich­mond on Sept 9.

That con­front­a­tion, which led to two ar­rests, sparked ra­cial back­lash, and a group called the Key­stone State Skin­heads pos­ted fly­ers around the neigh­bor­hood call­ing on white res­id­ents to take a stand.

Of­ficer An­namae Law, of Fishtown’s 26th Po­lice Dis­trict, said the East De­tect­ives Di­vi­sion is in­vest­ig­at­ing the in­cid­ent at Pop’s.

Sem­mel­roth said work­ers from the Parks and Re­cre­ation De­part­ment re­moved the ruined bas­ket­ball equip­ment. She es­tim­ates the dam­ages are in ex­cess of $4,000.

“We want to find out who did this,” said Sem­mel­roth. “The courts were in great shape, and were very pop­u­lar with the kids. I don’t see why someone would do this.”

While she said there have been some graf­fiti is­sues, this is the most de­struct­ive act the neigh­bor­hood has wit­nessed at the park.

Ed Mc­Grath, 24, was at Pop’s with his two-year-old daugh­ter, Oliva Kel­so, last Thursday and was in dis­be­lief that someone would des­troy the bas­ket­ball courts.

He’s been com­ing to the play­ground since he was kid, and said he’s seen much pos­it­ive change over the years.

“I think this is a shame,” said Mc­Grath. “This is a real neigh­bor­hood park, people are here every day and they take care of it. It’s not a junkie park like it used to be, with people sleep­ing around here.”

The friends group is ask­ing that any­one with in­form­a­tion con­tact the 26th dis­trict at 215-686-3261.••

Re­port­er Bri­an Rademaekers can be reached at 215 354 3039 or brademaekers@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at brademaekers@bsmphilly.com.

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