‘Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” Donald Trump once warned. Last weekend, a very bad thing happened in Philadelphia: I pepper-sprayed myself in the face. I had bought some pepper spray keyrings online because, after a spate of armed robberies in my neighbourhood, I was worried about walking my dog at night.
My dog is the size of a large rat so he doesn’t really deter bad guys – unless the bad guys are scared of rats. Anyway, I had gone out to the garden to test the spray – I’m not a complete idiot, I didn’t want to inhale that stuff in a confined space – and managed to get some droplets on my face. At first it was kind of pleasant. A nice little tingle. An exhilarating Philly facial. Then it started getting painful. Then I rubbed my eyes and …. yikes! 0/10 do not recommend.
You think admitting I pepper-sprayed myself is embarrassing? As a proud progressive, admitting that I feel unsafe in Philadelphia feels way more embarrassing. Rightwingers in the US are obsessed with the narrative that Democrat-led cities such as Philadelphia are dystopian hellscapes where you will almost certainly be killed if you step out of your house.
While the right cynically politicises crime (Fox News slashed its crime coverage in half after the midterm elections), they’re not entirely wrong about the problem. Shootings have surged in Philadelphia since the pandemic. By early August, more than 1,400 people had been shot in the city this year. Gun violence is out of control.
The right blames this violence on liberals and the movement to defund the police: Philadelphia has a famously progressive district attorney who, they argue, is too easy on criminals. The real reason for all this violence, however, is that Philadelphia has high rates of poverty and easy access to guns. That’s not a winning combination.
The antidote for all this violence isn’t rocket science. You increase social safety nets; you decrease poverty; you decrease access to guns. Unfortunately, there seems to be zero will in the US to do any of this. Which is great news for the pepper-spray industry and bad news for everyone else.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnnist
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