Living in Isolation Among the Bullets: North Philly’s Rising Violence

A large swath of North Philadelphia makes up much of the two most dangerous police districts in 2017 for young people.

Editor's Note: NBC10 Investigators spent several days in two of Philadelphia's most dangerous police districts — the 22nd and 25th — talking to families, experts and police. Here are the stories on the escalating violence in these districts.

Kobe Davis can’t shake the sound of gunfire around his home near North 21st and Berks streets.

"I been hearing the gunshots, sometimes in the morning, or sometimes at night," the 10-year-old said. "Like about every few hours. ... I don't even want to be outside."

Living in Isolation Among the Bullets, North Philly's Rising Violence:

Kobe came to North Philadelphia last August from Georgia with his mother, Whitley Garnes, and his sisters in hopes of new opportunities. What they’ve found is a neighborhood long suffering in racial and economic isolation.

“A neighborhood like this where there are gunshots regularly, those gun shots become an environmental hazard that people try to avoid. It’s like a flood, an oil spill,” criminologist Robert Kane, of Drexel University, said in an interview. “It becomes this self-perpetuating, transgenerational cycle and the economic opportunities still don’t exist here.”

A large swath of North Philadelphia, including three of the city's poorest zip codes, makes up much of the two most dangerous police districts in 2017 for young people — the 22nd and 25th, according to violent crime statistics.

Young people in these two districts face the greatest likelihood of getting shot, statistics show.

Thirty-three young people under the age of 24 were wounded by gunfire in the first six months of 2017, according to police statistics. Another 31 were shot in the 22nd district.

Overall, 232 people 24 years old or younger were shot in the city through July 1, including 43 kids ages 12-17.

“Eighteen to 25 seems to be the prime age for someone to commit a crime but also to be a victim of a crime,” police Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, the department spokesman, said.

Losing Loved Ones, Vanishing Opportunities: 

One researcher who spent a year in North Philadelphia studying the neighborhoods wracked by gun violence said the root of so many shootings is obvious.

"Kids can get a gun quicker than they can get a job," said researcher Abbey Thibeault.

What leads young people to find guns involve deep poverty, high unemployment and struggling public schools, she said.

The populations of five zip codes across North Philadelphia have poverty rates above 50 percent, according to U.S. Census figures. In 19133, 81.4 percent of residents live in poverty.

The perception of inescapable poverty combined with the daily sound of gunshots is not only terrifying in the short-term, it affects longterm health, according to Kane, the criminologist.

He said studies performed in high-stress neighborhoods like North Philadelphia have found residents with high levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps deal with stress.

"Cortisol helps you survive in tough environments, but for the long term, it leaches calcium from your bones, it causes your hair to fall out, it accelerates disease pathology," Kane said.

After less than a year in Philadelphia, Whitley Garnes is considering her options.

"I don't feel like this is somewhere I want to raise my kids," she said.

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