Philly, we’ve got to get our kids in check.

What happened inside that Wawa in the Northeast Saturday night was like a scene from the apocalypse. If you watched the videos that have been circulating, then you saw how the store at at 7001 Roosevelt Boulevard was swarmed by young people running around, intent on destruction. They started streaming in shortly after 8 p.m. and began throwing and grabbing things. Outside, kids jumped up and down on parked cars.,

At one point, someone waiting at a counter (who seemed like a customer) asked, “Are y’all going to make sandwiches or are y’all just going to keep recording?” If it weren’t sad, it would have been funny.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, roughly 100 juveniles were inside the store on Saturday. Some were standing around watching and video recording. Others ransacked displays and stole merchandise. Police disbursed the crowd but — incredibly — made no arrests.

“Why didn’t they arrest anybody?” Bilal Quayyum, an anti-violence activist, asked when we spoke Tuesday. “If you are in the store and literally stealing, you’ve got to be held accountable.”,

So does this city. Post pandemic, it feels as if the quality of life in this city has gotten worse.

Last year, the city’s homicide rate hit the highest total in at least half a century. Carjackings have skyrocketed as well; if 2022 continues at its current pace, the number could be 500% higher than it was in 2019. Shoplifting is on the rise, too. Meanwhile, prosecutions for retail theft have dropped as the District Attorney’s office has made a conscious effort not to prosecute lower-level criminal cases to free up resources.

I can appreciate District Attorney Larry Krasner’s decision to focus on bigger crimes than pilfering from stores, but the kind of lawlessness that took place at Wawa can’t go unaddressed.

“It’s disturbing. Someone could have gotten hurt,” Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, told me Monday.

“Homes, communities, and schools should be asking young people, ‘Were you part of that?'” he added. “See, that’s a different form of correction, protection, and affection.”

Critics are big on placing blame on parents, particularly absentee fathers. But that’s only part of the problem.

This is a societal issue.

The kind of criminality we saw unleashed Saturday inside that Wawa wasn’t a one-off, an example of one group of kids who decided to do a bad thing. This kind of lawlessness is all around us.

Cut another motorist off in traffic? They may pull out a gun. Park your car on a certain street? You might return to find your catalytic converter is missing. Chase behind the thieves, and you could wind up getting shot, like a block captain in East Germantown was last month. Drive a vehicle that someone else wants? You may wind up carjacked at gunpoint early one morning, like the mom and daughter from Northeast Philly were in their own driveway last week.

This isn’t just a problem in our region. You can see it all over, even in Washington, DC.

Consider the videos showing right-wing protestors at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 who broke into the halls of Congress, destroyed government property, and stole whatever they could all because former Pres. Donald Trump lost the presidential election. I worry that we may see more of that kind of thing in coming days, as the House committee investigating the attack holds its next public hearing on Sept. 28.

The fact that so many feel that they can do what they want with no regard for the safety and wellbeing of others is a societal problem. Krasner is right about our not being able to adjudicate our way out of what’s happening. We also need a massive cultural shift in our national psyche. We need to move away from thinking only about what they want, and instead focus more on what works for society at large, including those around them.

We need to create this cultural shift in our homes as well as in our schools and other social organizations. We also need it in our political parties as we march toward the all-important midterm elections. Without it, we’ll keep seeing repeats of what we saw in that Wawa on Saturday night.


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