2017 was year of triumph, tragedy and activism for Philly

It has been 335 years since Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1682. Many of those years have been eventful and historic, and 2017 was no exception. As Philly heads into year 336, here’s a look back at some of the biggest stories from the past year.

On Jan. 14, Rittenhouse Square became a flashpoint for civil disobedience after a ban was enacted against sitting on the historic park’s walls. Initiated by the Friends of Rittenhouse Square and the Department of Parks and Recreation after a shooting in the park the previous October and increased incidents of public drug use, the ban sparked calls for public disobedience of the law, including from Mayor Kenney himself. Within days the rule was wisely rescinded and “no sitting” signs were replaced with ones that instead warned “no smoking.”

On March 22, nearly six years after his historic election as Philadelphia’s first African-American DA, Seth Williams was indicted on federal corruption charges for allegedly receiving favors and illegal gifts (at least $160,500 of which he later disclosed). Williams refused to resign his $175,572-per-year post despite being stripped of his law license, so federal Judge Paul Diamond fast-tracked the trial. Midway through his August trial, Williams abruptly changed his plea to guilty and resigned. Judge Diamond ordered Williams detained that day and in October gave him the max of five years in federal prison. If he serves the full sentence, he will get out in August 2022.

On May 16, a heated Democratic primary ended with victories by two upstart candidates who both went on to win the November elections in heavily Democratic Philadelphia: City Controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart, who defeated incumbent Alan Butkovitz, and longtime defense attorney Larry Krasner, an outspoken critic of mass incarceration and advocate for criminal justice reform. Both will be inaugurated on Jan. 2. Butkovitz may be leaving his post as controller, but the longtime critic of financial waste in city government is the subject of heavy speculation for a potential anti-soda tax-focused mayoral run against Jim Kenney in 2019. (Those rumors remain completely unofficial at present.)

On June 8, Philly cop Ryan Pownall was driving a father and his children to the Special Victims Unit to report an alleged sex crime when he saw David Jones, 30, driving a dirt bike and decided to pull him over near Hunting Park and Whitaker Avenue near the Feltonville/Juniata Park area. Jones had an illegal gun in his belt, which after an alleged scuffle, he dropped at his feet before running. Pownall shot him in the back from 35 feet away as Jones ran, killing him. The shooting sparked outrage among activists and protests at numerous events, including a protest on the street outside Pownall’s  Bustleton home in August. In September, Commissioner Richard Ross announced Pownall would be fired for violating departmental policy during the shooting. No criminal charges have been filed against the former officer.

On July 9, four friends were reported missing in Bucks County. A massive manhunt eventually led to the arrest of Cosmo DiNardo, a marijuana dealer who allegedly confessed to separately luring all four men to his property and murdering them so he could rob them of money. But DiNardo’s cousin and alleged co-conspirator Sean Kratz described the slayings to investigators as a “massacre.” The two are awaiting trial, and DiNardo is rumored to possibly face the death penalty, despite reportedly confessing and leading authorities to the fourth man’s body in a negotiated deal specifically to not face that punishment.

On Sept. 7, community activist and father of two Gerard Grandzol was murdered for $60 outside his Spring Garden home. Grandzol had just parked his car outside his Melon Street home when he was confronted by brothers Maurice and Marvin Roberts, aged 20 and 16 at the time. Grandzol surrendered his wallet and car keys, but was shot twice by Marvin after asking to get his 2-year-old daughter out of the car. Both were arrested within days and are awaiting trial on murder charges. The crime shocked the city and led to a massive outpouring of support and donations for Grandzol’s widow, 2-year-old and newborn baby girl, now 4 months old.

On Nov. 6, Philly-born rapper Meek Mill was sentenced to two-to-four years in state prison for violating the terms of his probation from a 2008 gun possession case, sparking massive backlash and protests. Mill was found in violation for three incidents over the past year: riding a dirt bike in New York City while filming a music video, scuffling with over-aggressive fans at the St. Louis airport (in both incidents, Meek was arrested but charges were later dropped) and testing positive for Percocet. Meek, 30, remains incarcerated, but his legal team and supporters, ranging from Jay-Z and Rev. Al Sharpton to thousands of Philadelphians, continue to fight the sentence.

On Dec. 20, a 4-month-old baby was attacked and nearly killed by a raccoon inside a North Philly apartment. Journi Black received 65 stitches and may need a year to make a full recovery. As word of the horrific attack spread, donors opened their hearts and wallets to raise more than $25,000 to help Black’s family find a new, safe home. The family is reportedly considering legal action against their landlord.

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