A spate of violence plagues young black men in Norristown
Paul Brown spent part of Christmas dying.
Shortly after 4:40 p.m. that day, Norristown police found Brown in the driver’s seat of a 1997 Buick sedan. The 24-year-old had been shot multiple times.
The killing was part of an uptick in violence in Norristown beginning around October, according to local and state statistics.
It’s not outsiders, Norristown and county officials say, or Norristown’s Mexican gangs causing these troubles in the Montgomery County seat. Rather, those in a subculture of African American men in their 20s are shooting one another in a demonstration of bravado. Sometimes it is in pursuit of money, sometimes not.
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Either way, Brown’s brother Byron, 26, no angel himself, claims to be fed up.
“I know a lot of people in Norristown will read this and know I have gotten in trouble for a long time, been in the streets for a long time,” Brown says as he takes a break from a job he just got doing work around a church. “But I’m finished, I’m truly finished.”
The only thing – and it’s a very big thing – that could lure him back to “the negative life,” he says, “is if I knew who killed my brother and I killed that person.”
Which, he says, he would do.
“At the end of the day, that was my brother. I wouldn’t even feel bad about sitting in jail.
“And that’s why the cycle continues.”
The recent shootings began Oct. 20, when someone fatally shot Ryan Ladson-Singleton, 21, in the head and torso. Two nonfatal shootings took place in November and one on Dec. 21. Then came Paul Brown’s killing.
Brown’s and Ladson-Singleton’s deaths are two of the four homicides last year in Norristown. There were four killings in 2011, six in 2010, and 10 in 2009, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
“It seems like they’re happening more frequently, but our crime rate has constantly been coming down for the last five years,” says Police Chief Russell J. Bono.
Still, Singleton’s death seems pivotal, Bono says, with that shooting and the ones that followed involving men who “all seem to know one another.”
Byron L. Craig, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, says intense socio-economic pressures – the majority of subsidized housing in Montgomery County is in Norristown – was one factor.
“When you begin to put people into a close proximity, and when you talk about poverty, when you talk about lack of education,” he says, “that becomes the powder keg for an explosion.”