Kensington resident George Kalfas lives only three blocks from the Allegheny stop on SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line. In the last six months, he’s been robbed three times during his daily walk from the station to his house.
“One time I had to stab the robber with a switchblade knife out of self-defense,” Kalfas said. “It’s a place to rob people.”
Ask any Kensington resident and they’ll tell you it’s not only a place for robbing, but a place for excessive drug use, prostitution and collective debauchery. One time, while sitting at the light at the corner of Kensington Avenue and Allegheny Avenue – dubbed K&A by locals – Kalfas said he saw a man throw an M-80 explosive device into a crowd of people. When any of his three daughters, aged 16, 20 and 24, would walk home from the subway, they’d often be approached by strangers seeking a prostitute.
“That’s why I started coming down and picking them up from the subway stop,” Kalfas said, “because I seen the situation getting worse.”
These events might sound unthinkable to Philadelphians who live in other neighborhoods, but for Kensingtonites, it’s all a part of daily life.
“I remember our Kensington streets filled with kids enjoying a hot summer night,” said resident Gilberto Gonzalez from a megaphone at Wednesday afternoon’s protest at K&A. “I remember sitting on steps, in parks and corners enjoying conversations with my neighbors. I remember struggling to make ends meet, but that was OK because we had jobs – that paid low, but we had jobs. What we have today is poverty, drugs and daily killings.”
Residents at the protest made it clear who they felt was responsible for the state of Kensington. Many blamed Mayor Jim Kenney.
“I definitely believe it’s the mayor because he has the power,” said Kalfas.
Others, such as Hector Fuentes, who owns property throughout Kensington including Four Sons Pizzeria half a block from K&A, blame District Attorney Larry Krasner, who attended the protest.
“The problem is this gentleman right here, Mr. Krasner,” Fuentes said through the megaphone as he pointed at Krasner. “It’s time to get him out of office, it’s time to get Jim Kenney out of office…We need to change our neighborhood!”
After the protest, Fuentes told the Star that the problem lies within “lax enforcement from the city.”
“That guy, you know I call him ‘Kracksner’ because he allows everything,” said Fuentes, referring to Krasner. Fuentes said police officers in the district have told him that they haven’t been “allowed” to effectively do their jobs.
“I talk to these police officers and these police officers are not allowed to do their jobs and when they do make arrests, they’re basically let loose minutes later or even if they’re held for prosecution when they go to trial, he drops charges and brings it down to the minimum,” he said. “So they’re getting away with murder.”
State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-180th dist.) piled on, saying that the city needs “a stricter DA.”
Krasner defended his office’s policies at the protest, and let protesters know that he “heard their pain.” But he also told them they’ve been lied to.
“Our office prosecutes every single drug dealer and the reason you’re saying that…is because you don’t know the facts, and you’ve been lied to,” he said. “We have a different attitude about use. We want treatment for users, but we are prosecuting all drug dealers.”
As Krasner tried his best to explain the problem of doctors overprescribing opioids to patients, his voice was drowned out by a chorus of boos.
“Doctors…are the first drug dealers most people see,” he said, noting that about 20 percent of people become addicted to prescription opioids in as little as 10 days. “The solution here is to make sure you screw down on the supply of pills.”
He also pinned the issue on the lack of proper mental health treatment for people who suffer overdoses.
“We have a mental health system that does not allow for taking someone who just overdosed on the street and put them into treatment,” he explained. “Every other country that deals with this issue, when they got somebody dying on the street, they can put them into treatment.”
In a scrum with reporters after his speech, Krasner reaffirmed his pro-safe injection site stance.
“Everybody over here says, ‘I don’t want to see needles,’ well you know where you can put them? You can put them inside a safe injection site. [They say] ‘I don’t want defecation’ – there are toilets inside of a safe injection site.”
He said SISs make “good sense for safety” and “saving lives.”
The protest came on the heels of a news conference organized by City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez at the same location two weeks ago. Quiñones-Sánchez recently introduced legislation aimed at creating a plan to combat the excessive trash and “unlivable conditions in the community.”
At the news conference, Quiñones-Sánchez slammed Kenney for his poor leadership, which she says is at least partially to blame for the current state of Kensington.
“Mayor Kenney, you come down to Kensington and you tell me you’re OK with this under your leadership,” she said.
The mayor’s spokesperson, Mike Dunn, responded, saying that the Kenney administration “has long shared the Councilmember’s commitment to doing everything possible to improve the quality of life of Kensington residents.”
Tens of millions of dollars were invested into this type of work since 2016, Dunn said, mainly through the Philadelphia Resilience Project, which is a neighborhood-centric effort to clear encampments, reduce levels of litter and increase treatment options for those suffering from addiction.