A three-day campout in Northeast Philadelphia to promote peace drew few visitors but remained an important ritual for several attendees.
The campout for peace is the 7th annual event organized by Operation Save Our City to remember victims of gun violence and protest against the city’s lethargy vis-à-vis unsolved murder cases.
Rain was falling, and visitors were scarce until at least 1 p.m. when Heather, a North Philadelphia resident whose boyfriend’s 2015 murder is still unsolved, came into the tent to share a photo of her boyfriend with Rosalind Pichardo and Katheryn Pennypacker, who organized the event.
Pichardo said it does not matter how many people show up to the campout. What matters, she said, is the act and the fact of bringing awareness to the issue, sharing it on social media, and sympathizing with whoever shows up.
“I had some stranger who came and showed some love,” Pichardo said, “and we had another mother, Maria Martinez, who lives in Northeast, who came to drop-off the image of her son.”
Heather, who refused to provide her last name, said she did not have enough power to be heard in her case. The campout for peace gave her courage to come out and share her story and photo despite the rain and cold weather.
“They took someone who meant a lot for me,” Heather said. “They will never understand that.”
According to Pichardo, the event helps anybody who has been suffering in silence to feel that they are not alone.
“When I first started,” Pichardo said, “it was to bring people together and bring images together at one place where people can come and visit.”
Kathryn Pannepacker is a community artist from Germantown. She works at the Kensington Storefront, a community platform initiated by Mural Arts in partnership with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. According to Mural Arts.org, the storefront is meant to help a “community fractured by drug addiction, crime, and housing insecurity.”
Pannepacker has been camping out with Pichardo since the first day. She said she thinks the event is worthwhile when it comes to supporting victims of gun violence in the city.
“There are actions of the heart that some folks do, and actions of the mind that legislators do,” Pannepacker said. “I think that’s really important, it’s really important. That’s why we’re all working together trying to figure out ways to encourage people in despair.”
Camping out during Philadelphia’s coldest month may be hard for some people, but Pichardo said January is special.
“I find that January is a really important time for me because that’s when my brother was murdered,” she said. “We were talking yesterday how it’s crucial, more than ever, to talk about the gun violence now. People need to speak up. We are 25 days into January and we already have 32 homicides in Philadelphia.”
The year 2019 was the most murderous in Philadelphia since 2000, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, but 2020 is off to an even worse start.
“I feel like the numbers are going to be higher for so many different reasons now,” Pichardo said. “A lot of folks know that the homicide cases that are solved are very small. Sixty to 70 percent of homicides are not solved. People know this. And people also know that if they’re caught, they are not going to serve a whole lot of time.”
Operation Save Our City was founded in 2012. Pichardo said even if the homicide rate has not changed over the years, the movement has nevertheless brought families of victims together and helped them overcome the trauma by getting involved.
“I don’t know if anything has changed in the streets,” she said. “But what I have noticed is that more mothers and more sisters are fighting in the front line with me and people who are partners dealing with the violence. I can say that this is one thing I have changed since I started Operation Save Our City.”