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With an open-air drug market and long-standing problems fueled by the opioid crisis, Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood is no stranger to the around-the-clock presence of law enforcement.
But residents were surprised to wake up to an unusually large police presence last Thursday.
Yari Martinz, an owner of a corner store near Kensington and Allegheny Avenues, witnessed the scene after picking up her baby daughter.
“All these police came in [the store] – the SWAT team and everybody – and they were just like, ‘you got to get out of here,’” she said. “And they didn’t want to get me back in the store. And I was like, ‘I need to go back to the store because I have my daughter.’”
As she stood outside, law enforcement officials directed her to leave the area or lock herself inside.
That’s when Martinz noticed two men being escorted out of an adjacent building by heavily armed federal agents dressed in camouflage gear. The two men were placed into an armed tactical vehicle.
“I seen them take them to the trucks and everything. And they were just getting people out of the way for like almost an hour doing all this. It was crazy,” she said. “We were all confused because people were like, ‘Oh, they’re gonna throw something, and it’s gonna be loud and this and that.’”
Although this level of law enforcement activity is rare in Kensington, it’s tied to intensified policing throughout the neighborhood. A heightened presence that has seemingly led to quicker 911 call response times, Martinz said, but also shrinking homeless encampments and open drug use.
“Every single day they [police] have people cleaning up the streets, and it’s like you don’t really see them now like you used to see them before,” she said.