Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Customs, Culture and Traditions
Abundant seafood made it easy to settle here. Agriculture takes longer.

The characteristic American behavior called volunteerism got its start with Benjamin Franklin's Junto, and has been a source of comment by foreign visitors ever since. It's still a very active force.

With a long history of welcoming and assisting the poor, Philadelphia has always risked swamping the lifeboat by attracting more of them than it can handle.

Police Athletic League


T he Philadelphia chapter of the PAL is now almost sixty years old; that means its origins are to be found in the great industrial migrations and urban dislocations of World War II. Philadelphia has experienced many upsurges of crime in its long history, and almost without exception crime centers in new immigrant groups. Commentators on prison conditions over the centuries have always remarked on the over-representation of whatever is the most recent immigrant group among the inmates. Crimes related to recreational drugs may be an exception, just as crimes related to bootlegging were an exception during Prohibition. Or maybe not; perhaps issues of that sort merely affect the type of crime and the reason for committing it, while the criminals themselves continue to concentrate in the most recent immigrant population. It is merely to face the plain facts to notice that the war industries attracted large immigration to Philadelphia of African-Americans, so the recent-immigrant crime wave centered in them. There's actually hope in that if we keep calm about it. It means that crime can in time be expected to settle down, just as it did after the waves of immigration of Irish, Germans, and Scotch in earlier centuries. This wave of immigrants from the Southern states will surely be assimilated, too. Police records show that most crimes are committed by teenagers, committed between 3 PM and 9 PM. The aim of the Police Athletic League is therefore clear: keep teenagers busy and off the streets between 1 PM and 9 PM. The 27 centers of PAL, with nearly 30,000 participants between age 6 to 18, have a budget of over $2 million a year, all privately donated. The contribution of the City Government is to supply police officers to staff the centers, and that is an unexpectedly important thing to do. One might suppose hostile teenagers would be turned off by the presence of "the man", the stormtrooper of the enemy, and perhaps some are. But the presence of police in every center means that PAL is safe when very little else is safe for lower class teenagers. And of course, it is important for teenagers to learn that cops are people. Lots of cops are nice guys who will help you. Lots of cops used to be members of PAL, themselves. A men's luncheon club to which I belong donates the profits from a weekly lottery to PAL, and consequently, a speaker from the League is sent to thank us by giving a talk once a year. The Police Athletic League is clearly evolving. It started out with only programs in boxing and basketball, rather obvious choices. But now, the example of Tiger Woods has stimulated a great deal of interest in golf, which takes place on the loan of time at five local golf courses. Many famous civic leaders are involved in the governance of this organization, and recently the Lend fest family has been especially generous. You can look forward to a large well equipped PAL center soon, at Luzerne and 12th Streets, based on their generosity. It will have, among other things, squash courts, no less. Squash started out as a game in debtor's prison, but it currently has the image of upper-crust exclusivity. It's important to do things like that. And the activities of PAL have further evolved away from prize-fighting into computer classes. A popular new development has been a mathematics competition. It would go too far to say that PAL has saved a whole generation from living the life of the streets. But it's making progress which is very heartening to see.

Originally published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019

I would like to sign my nephew up for your program, his mother is a single parent and disable. He don't follow rules and is out of controll. Could you please help her. He still from stores and get suspended from school every week. He goes to CEP at Germantown & Allegheny and it's nothing we can do with him, if it's possible I would bring him to yall and leave him, could you please send me feed back on how I could turn his life around before he be in the system permanently
Posted by: Toka   |   Jan 17, 2008 7:35 PM
Yes, Please send me information concerning the PAL organization. Love to leave a large donantion.
Posted by: SGT. Ervin   |   Dec 28, 2007 4:01 PM