The circumstances surrounding the death of Richard Johnson are as mundane as they are sad.
On July 9, Johnson, his girlfriend and his cousin were emerging from a corner store near 20th and Tasker Streets in South Philly when they found their path blocked by a teenager on a bike.
Words were exchanged, but the kid eventually rode off. Johnson and his cousin escorted the girl to her bus.
After she left, the boys started to walk back to Johnson's house when the kid on the bike came back. He had a gun.
He proceeded to pump bullets into Johnson, 17, and his cousin, Christopher Little, also 17.
Police say as many as 16 shots were fired by the boy on the bike before he rode away.
Little was wounded in the buttocks and the legs, but survived. Johnson was shot in the stomach and head. He died the next day.
Richard Johnson had just graduated in June from St. Joseph's Prep. He had won an academic scholarship to St. Joseph's University. His goal in life was to become a lawyer. One of his teachers called him a "genuine soul," destined for success. Now, he is dead.
On Monday, police arrested a neighborhood kid named Alante Manigault. He is 16 years old.
His 17th birthday is Aug. 12. Alante will spend it in jail awaiting trial on a murder accusation. Odds are that he will spend his 75th birthday in jail, as well.
Police didn't find the gun used in the crime, but that's not a surprise. Guns used in a homicide - guns with a body on them, as they say in the streets - are usually sold quickly, often at a discount price.
Odds are it was a 9mm Glock or Ruger semiautomatic with an extended clip to hold extra bullets. You never know when you are going to need extra bullets.
Police call what happened to Richard Johnson a "respect killing." One kid disses another. The other kid either has or gets a gun. The next thing you know, shooting starts.
A week hardly goes by in Philadelphia without a young man - often a black man under the age of 24 - getting killed for one reason or another.
If you get the impression it's easy to get guns in Philadelphia - even if you are a teenager and it's illegal to own one - you would be right.
I'm sure that if you walked into poorer neighborhoods in the city and the kids were candid with you, most of them could tell you where to buy a street gun, how much it sells for, and give you tips on best buys.
A lot of those guns were purchased at local gun shops by straw buyers, who turn them over to illegal gun dealers, who sell them on the street.
One a month
One way to stem this practice is to limit multiple handgun sales. There is a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature to do that. It would set the limit at one handgun a month.
To the gun lobby, that is a totally unacceptable restriction. And many state legislators are whores to the National Rifle Association. The bill has been bottled up in the House Judiciary Committee.
In Pennsylvania, we can talk about the culture that creates gun violence. We can talk about stiffer sentences for those who commit a crime with guns. But, we can't talk about restricting the flow of guns. That is politically taboo.
It's also lunacy. It's as if we put every ounce of effort at treating cancer, but refused to consider any attempt at preventing cancer.
If you have this much blood on the streets, you should be willing to try anything to slow the flow.
Everyone knows you can't stop it. Murder has been with us since Cain slew Abel. But, the one-a-month restriction is a sensible and worthy experiment.
So, here is something to do in memory of Richard Johnson.
Write a letter or call state Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien (R., Phila.), who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and ask him to report out House Bill 871, the bill to limit handgun sales.
O'Brien's office number is 215-632-5150. His office address is 9811 Academy Rd., Philadelphia 19114-1715.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Bang You're Dead, Homey
I think this is a good companion piece to "Take Your Gun Party Somewhere Else!," echoing some of the same themes I mentioned earlier. Of course, this deals on a personal level with the tragic story of would-be college student Richard Johnson. Tom Ferrick Jr. wrote this column in today's Inquirer.