[Photos by JUSTIN ROMAN]
BY JEFF DEENEY I was standing on the corner of 2nd Street and Glenwood Avenue, looking over the stuffed animals tacked to a telephone pole, when a haggard white addict wearing deeply dirty construction boots, a holey T-shirt and a greasy ponytail walked past. He looked heavily opiated and all around pretty worse for wear. He jerked his thumb at the memorial saying simply, “Dead baby,” and kept walking.
“Dead baby, huh?” I asked, hoping he would slow down long enough to say a few more words, but he kept trucking down the slope running alongside the abandoned factory that takes up this entire block. I noticed when the man passed that the seat of his jeans was worn white from wear and about to split open. Glenwood Avenue runs diagonal here, following the course of the Northeast Corridor rail tracks that divide it from Sedgley Avenue all the way across North Philly to Strawberry Mansion. This area is an industrial strip that has lain fallow for some time, characterized by empty warehouses pocked with broken window glass and vacant lots full of hardy weeds that come up past your waist, with stalks as thick as your wrist.
My direct experience with this area is passing — as a social worker I drove past 2nd and Glenwood many times, usually en route from the 24th and 25th Police District building up on Whitaker Avenue — so I asked a couple ex-addicts with recent experience here what the neighborhood is like.
“Well, you know about 5th and Glenwood, right?” one asked me when I mentioned the memorial.
“Nah, I was never up that way much.”
He and another ex-addict shared a knowing glance and started to laugh. The other ex-addict chimed in almost gleefully, “5th and Glenny, man, that’s the Supermarket,” he said, jokingly using the corner’s nickname.
“Yeah,” the other affirmed, “that corner’s kind of like a strip mall except with dope dealers.”
It occurred to me that the white addict who gave me the dead baby tip was headed towards 5th Street. Maybe that’s why he was in such a rush, he was on his way to the Supermarket.
The addict’s tip turned out to be a dead end; I suspected at first that the memorial was tied to a shooting that happened here in mid-March but didn’t remember their being any fatalities in that incident, and certainly no dead children. Dead babies make the front page. If there was a dead baby, I would remember it. I suspected that the addict had bad information; it’s not the first time in this series that a tip from a neighborhood passerby turned out to be baseless. That’s why it’s important to corroborate information gathered at the memorial site with crime reports, court records and other online sources like MySpace and YouTube.
Using the name spraypainted in black on the sidewalk next to the telephone pole where the stuffed animals hung, I tracked down the MySpace memorial page for “Junito.” The profile’s photo album included a number of pictures, including a Mass card from his funeral bearing the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on one side and a prayer inscription on the other. There were photos of Junito in a close-cropped Caesar style haircut that the Latin boys favor and wearing a white hoodie patterned with a red-and-black skull and crossbones. Another photo showed a likeness of Junito airbrushed onto the gas tank of a friend’s sport bike as a tribute. From the Mass card we find out that Junito’s real name was Primitivo Sanchez, and he died on May 6, 2007. A check of the Inquirer homicide map for 2007 shows a red dot at the intersection of 2nd Street and Glenwood Avenue; when your pointer hovers over the dot the name of 20-year-old Primitivo Sanchez pops up.
A national story on gun violence run by the Reuters news agency soon after his death features a picture of Junito’s coffin being carried by a group of friends sporting airbrushed memorial T-shirts, which also appear on the MySpace page dedicated to him; the news photo’s caption states the he was gunned down “over an argument about his car.” It’s not apparent whether the memorial is still being maintained since last year, or if it was resurrected on the anniversary of Junito’s death a couple weeks back.
Court records show that there was a motion to forfeit drugs filed against Junito in 2005, and he also pled guilty to an open container charge in 2006. There’s a shout out to his drug crew the CSN (Cambria Street Niggas) on his MySpace memorial page. The letters CSN appeared, written in marker on the stuffed animals at the memorial site. One photo online shows the street signs at the intersection of Cambria and Lee streets, in the heart of the Badlands, indicating which section of Cambria his crew hails from.
There’s no indication that CSN is anything other than a small-time corner crew; there’s no mention of its name in regional news coverage, and it only appears in passing on a handful ofMySpace pages. I was told by a reliable source that the Badlands Latin drug gangs usually stay small because they are based on family ties. These gangs usually only claim a small area for territory, often just the block that family lives on. Small time drug crew or no, the keeper of Junito’s memorial page, who identifies herself as the mother of his Godson, ends a blog entry dedicated to him with the same kind of strong message of gang loyalty we’ve seen so often elsewhere during this series:
GOD FOUND HIS NEW ANGEL!!!!! NO WORRIES ‘C.S.N’ -LA FAMILIA WILL REJOIN YOU UP IN HEAVEN 1 DAY!!!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PW, City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture. He is currently working on a book about life in the crossfire of poverty, drugs, guns, and the bureaucracies designed to remedy them, all of which informed his experiences as social workers in some of the city’s most dire and depleted neighborhoods.