Incorporating the The Germantown Chronicle & The Northwest Independent

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How Quality of Life Became Impossible in Germantown

The Maxine Canada Brown story

She could be seen almost any morning or afternoon with trash bag in hand cleaning up the 4400 block of Morris Street in Germantown. 30 year resident and block captain, she tied a trash can to a utility pole and invited all area residents to use it. If a street light went out, dumping took place in Fern Hill Park across the street, she was on it; badgering city services to take the appropriate action. Major projects like getting the city to take down a dangerous large dead tree took three years of phone calls while she heard three city departments tell her “it’s not our job.”

Beyond that, she encouraged other neighbors and their children to take more pride in their community and participate in civic events, attend community meetings with her, and in her “spare time” was an integral part of a long-operating theater group that trained young folks without means in the theater arts, her own profession.

These are only a few of the avocations of Maxine Canada Brown, self-made career performing artist, (Canada is her stage name distinguishing her from a blues singer of the exact same name), pre-school teacher and civic activist who found herself victim last week to the long-established and neglected encroaching drug culture that has turned many Philadelphia neighborhoods into pathways to a lockdown quality of life — characterized by “hear no evil, see no evil” attitudes as fear triumphs in some twisted value structure that allows gangsters of all stripes — street, politicians, and insider developers to feast on remnants of once valued neighborhoods.

Maxine moved to Germantown with her family in 1969, growing up in the projects of North Philadelphia. Successful from a young age as a dancer and performing artist, she traveled the nation and the world for several years before returning to her home neighborhood and buying an abandoned property across from Fern Hill Park at the lower end of Germantown in sight of Wayne Junction.

Restoring the property on her own, she lived within walking distance of her family and enjoyed all that this second oldest of Philadelphia neighborhoods had to offer. Keeping the block clean and civic participation were priorities, and she very much enjoyed the block captain obligations and they were always first on her list.

Frustration came with some frequency, as the city was often slow to respond to what were clearly its obligations. The same could be said of some area residents who did not seem to prioritize their responsibility within the community, but she never gave up.

An awful lot changed last week. It’s no secret that drug dealing and illegal activity have a long-standing presence in lower Germantown. Many informed types consider that law enforcement at the top made the decision years ago to sacrifice certain neighborhoods to the drug dealers and this was one of them. Certain streets and specific houses are known drug dealing locations and cars slowing down, transactions made in broad daylight are common. Police at town meetings have offered all manner of excuses why these locations cannot be shut down or controlled. Folks have learned to “live with it” and “keep their mouths shut." Maxine was the exception.

When she was set up for a home break in last week by a young neighbor from one of those drug dispensaries she went to the police and told detectives the whole story of how she was briefly away from her residence supposedly getting a prescription for a sick neighbor only to return home to find a broken first floor window and then a man grabbed her and said: “open up or I will kill you”. Her reply was “kill me now, as you are not getting into this house” — whereupon she was thrown to the ground while he tried to kick in the door — all this in broad daylight.

When she started screaming he decided to run off, but the neighbor told her “don’t call the cops.” Never one to back away, the 5 foot tall Maxine promptly did call them and that began a series of events that ultimately led to a police shooting last Saturday.

It was well known that on her same block was a drug dealing location that had operated for 25 years and three generations; one of many in lower Germantown that the police have long known about. One of the members of that household was the one who told her not to call police after setting her up for the home invasion that failed — failed that day.

For the very next morning, just after she left home, they blew out her front glass window, ransacked the house, stole anything that could be easily fenced, but were seen in there as she returned home with her 92 year old mother in the car. The same individual who had threatened her was climbing out her window upon arrival and the police were called for a second time in two days. Undaunted, she told the entire story and reportedly the detectives got a warrant and went looking for Quron Willis; disclosing at the time that there had been five, count them five, home break-ins in the immediate area in the prior five days.

The very next day, Saturday, we learn that an off-duty Philadelphia policeman shot and killed a youth who he came upon robbing an elderly man on Chew Avenue with a gun. That youth was Quron Willis.

Sadly, this is a typical Philadelphia story in the city where almost 30% of its citizens live in poverty and drug dealing is often a career of choice.  Now a dedicated citizen has to leave her chosen neighborhood as the police informed her they knew of this drug operation and it is reportedly connected with another just around the corner. How could she ever be safe again in this community, since there is no indication things will ever change. Violence, burglary, theft and murder are a way of life for far too many in this city and our elected officials pave it all over with trivial distraction projects and false information. The media is all too often remise in telling the tragic story of how the city that once had the highest percentage of home ownership in the nation, was a destination for folks who wanted jobs and careers and continued to grow in population until 1950, has since seen almost all of its private decent paying blue and white collar private jobs leave; along with 650,000 residents.

Now, this corner of Germantown where Ms. Brown lived across from a park was a drug distribution location of choice. You see, it was accessible quickly through a close by ramp off the Roosevelt extension, a one block trip to the drug house, and a quick left turn on another expressway ramp and “you’re gone”.  License plates on cars from New Jersey, New York and Delaware were regulars out front with engines running. None of this was any secret to the neighbors or police, and I would venture the DA’s office or courts either. Lower Germantown, like several others, was an expendable community.

It’s incredible to realize that only blocks from this location (at Germantown Ave and Wister St) is a pole with a plaque, the only monument to the fact that it was here in Germantown in 1688 that the first written anti-slavery petition to be read in the Western Hemisphere was presented in a Quaker Meeting. Instead of this neighborhood being a national historic shrine and destination, it is a frontier for drugs, death and destruction.

Maxine Canada Brown has been the co-host on The Independent Voice Radio program WURD Sunday nights begun in Dec 2013.

Jim Foster

The Independent Voice