Philadelphia: City Under Siege

Crime in Philadelphia
CBS
Violent crime in America is on the rise, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will appear before Congress on Tuesday to push for passage of a new anti-crime bill. It would, among other things, toughen federal gun laws.

The problem is worst in big cities, where murders last year soared more than 6.5 percent: In San Diego, murders were up 33 percent; in Houston, 12.9 percent, and in New York 10.6 percent. In Philadelphia, murders were up 7.7 percent last year.

On Sunday, in the City of Brotherly Love, five people were shot to death, bringing the murder total for this year to 232. National correspondent Byron Pitts is on the battle lines in Philadelphia, where to gain access to some of the people in this report, he's had to conceal their identities..



In North Philadelphia, life is often short ...

"This is the block that we had a triple shooting," points out Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. "She was 18 years old."

... and illegal guns are cheap.

"This is something to keep me going everyday," says one gun-toting teen. "This is just a little something to keep them off me."

The kids call it 'strappin. Social scientists call it urban genocide — where children run the street and adults have run out of answers.

Since 2001, there have been 10,000 shooting victims in Philadelphia. Most of the gunmen are under the age of 25.

North Philadelphia is where most of this city's murders have occurred. Unemployment and the school dropout rate there are the highest; residents, community activists and even the police commissioner claim they are waging a war and they are losing badly.

"I believe this is a war," says community activist Mel Wells. "Two weeks ago we had a grandma who was going to church, a brother walking out of a bar and we had a lady going to temple. All of them are dead today. … Yes, I call that a war."


Couric & Co: Is It A War?
"I hesitate to ask this question, but in your estimation, is it an urban problem. Is it a black problem? Pitts asks Commissioner Johnson.

"I can only speak for Philadelphia — and Philadelphia is definitely a black problem because of the 85 percent of the people being killed, close to 80 percent are African-American males," he said.

Consider the murder rate in the past five years: from 288 in 2002 to 406 in 2006. So far in 2007, there's been nearly one murder a day… and counting.

Commissioner Johnson has been a cop in Philadelphia for 43 years. He speaks with the bluntness of a man retiring in five months.

"Traditional policing is not working. That's just my opinion," he says. "Traditional policing is only locking up people better. That's not the only answer."

The commissioner and others make the familiar argument that tougher gun laws, better education and better jobs would make the difference.

"You're telling me if all these guys had jobs they'd get rid of their guns and everyone would live happily ever after?" Pitts asked.

"No, I'm not saying that," says Wells. "When you can put the money in the right place to try to help this problem, they you'll have something for these guys to step up to."

Wells runs a social services program in North Philly that his father started nearly 20 years ago called One Day at a Time. It helps nearly 55,000 ex-offenders, former addicts and others every year.

Wells and Pitts spoke beneath "The Wall," a memorial to the 406 people — 25 of them children — who were murdered in Philadelphia last year. Wells says when he looks at it, he pictures "another mother crying."

As for those who do the shooting, there are few tears. One 19-year-old was just released from jail after shooting another teenager four times told Pitts that he "can't go nowhere without" a gun. When asked "what kind of life is that," he replied: "Bad. Either dead or in jail."

It's life in a neighborhood where, too often, manhood is measured not by character but by the caliber of a gun.


Tuesday, in part two of his report, Pitts looks at how possible solutions to Philadelphia's problems can affect cities across the nation.