Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Allentown News

Allentown mayor looks to 'end the disease of violence in the city' as residents call for action

Allentown Council Meeting February 1 attendees
Jay Bradley
A packed attendance at the Allentown City Council meeting on Feb. 1 with activists speaking on gun violence and emergency workers honored for the January trench rescue

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Frustrated residents took to a city council meeting Wednesday to demand government leaders and community members fight violence together.

Many of the speakers were prompted to come following a brawl last weekend at an after-hours club on Livingston Street, where a video clip of the fight spread on Facebook.

  • Several recent incidents of violence prompted a large turnout
  • Activists emphasized the need for community outreach and collective action
  • Mayor Matt Tuerk acknowledged areas 'where we have come up short'

Other recent instances also have prompted fear in the community, such as a Jan. 22 shooting on Union Boulevard that killed a 28-year-old woman and a student found Wednesday with a loaded gun at Dieruff High School.

Jessica Ortiz, founder of the Ortiz Ark Foundation, encouraged residents to come to the meeting, joining seven others in speaking about the violence in the city. A number of organizations were represented.

Tempers rose during public comment, with police escorting one man from the meeting room.

"My daughter was at a nightclub this weekend enjoying herself. That nightclub has nothing to do with it (the violence), they need our help," Ortiz said. "I'm not asking to shut them down, because all that's gonna do is create house parties and speakeasies. I'm asking to work together as a community."

Calls for a special meeting

Ortiz said violence has erupted in many locations, such as other clubs and grocery stores. She is organizing a petition to request a special council meeting to address violence and bring stakeholders together to pursue solutions.

"I'm just saying can we figure it out as a city because I don't want to be that mom in a rage after something happens to my daughter," Ortiz said. "My coming up here today is to say the city is not safe."

Shaun Fequiere, the owner of Secrets Lounge in Allentown where last weekend's melee occurred, said he was frustrated by a lack of specific action.

"I hope that we can come to plan because everybody keeps talking about this, but I have yet to hear a plan from anybody that says, 'You know what, let's go and do this,'" said Fequiere. "I'm hoping that we can have a plan to where these lounges and these businesses can have assistance."

Nightclub brawl

He agreed with another speaker, Eddie Aviles, who said making police available to after-hours businesses for an affordable fee may be helpful because of the sense of security it can provide.

"To attack us is very hurtful, in a sense, because I try to provide a business to give the people here entertainment," Fequiere said.

"It was definitely hurtful to watch, hurtful to experience."
Shaun Fequiere, Secrets Lounge owner

Fequiere on a Facebook livestream earlier this week thanked the community for its support. He said the weekend fight was the result of an out-of-town group of about 10 customers who were rowdy. When security went to throw one of the groups out of the venue, he said, others from the group attacked security guards.

He said local customers tried to help de-escalate the situation and stayed behind to help clean up afterward. In the livestream, Fequiere said those involved in the fight would be banned from Secrets Lounge and other local locations.

"It was definitely hurtful to watch, hurtful to experience," he said in the video. "This was not an Allentown situation."

Jessica Ortiz Allentown Council
Jay Bradley
Jessica Ortiz addressing the Allentown City Council on Wednesday night's meeting

Many other speakers discussed how a fear of violence — particularly gun violence — has affected Allentown.

"We have all seen firsthand what gunshots and gun violence can do to our city," said Milagros Canales, a member of the Old Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association of Jordan Heights and CEO of Games for Gunz.

"Businesses who invest in this community have closed their doors, jobs begin to disappear, relinquishing opportunities to rebuild the struggling economy. And in our schools, students begin to disengage with the curriculum, because they fear what they have to face in the neighborhood."

Canales joined Ortiz and others in calling for community partnerships to alleviate the issue.

'Use our passion'

"How about we find a plan to use our passion for a new city of Allentown," said high school student David Delarosa. "It's not pointing fingers at administration, but it's a collective effort by the city —something if I can work on it, then they can work on it, and you can work on it, we can all work on it. But it requires passion."

Others focused on issues of parking and advocating for American Rescue Plan Act money to be used toward a community youth center in Allentown.

An argument erupted that briefly stopped the meeting when one speaker, Lance Lopsey, interrupted Jeanie Garcia of Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley.

Police removed Lopsey from the room as arguments continued between him and others from Promise Neighborhoods.

Officials who weren't on the council agreed that community connection and collective action are necessary to curb concerns of violence.

"We have to stop assigning blame, we have to stop finger-pointing, and we have to stop the zero-sum-game resource competition," said state Rep. Josh Seigel, a former city council member who was in attendance. "This can't be about which organization gets what."

Mayor addresses issue

Siegel, D-Lehigh, said the strategy must have a multi-faceted public safety approach, bringing together different people to build and accomplish it.

On Allentown’s East Side, an increase in violence

These incidents have taken place over the past month:

    A rash of violence prompted several people to speak out on safety concerns at the Allentown City Council meeting on Wednesday night. Here are the incidents that have taken place:

    East Side Youth Center shooting:

    On New Year’s Day, officers were called to the 1100 block of East Clair Street, near the East Side Youth Center, for a report of shots fired at 9:15 p.m., according to a news release. The shooting happened in one of the gymnasiums during a basketball game, according to a neighborhood outreach group and people who frequent the center.

    Homicide on Union Blvd:

    On Jan. 22 at 4:15 a.m., officers were called to Mamajuana restaurant at 1038 Union Blvd for a report of a shooting. Upon arrival, they found a 28-year-old female with a gunshot wound. The victim, Blessing Taveras, died at a local hospital. Police also located a second victim at an area hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg.

    Secrets Lounge brawl:

    The owner of Secrets Lounge said a weekend fight was the result of an out-of-town group of about 10 customers who were rowdy. When security went to throw one of the groups out of the venue, he said, others from the group attacked security guards.

    Loaded gun at Dieruff:

    City police charged a 14-year-old boy with multiple gun offenses after they say he brought a loaded weapon into Dieruff High School on Feb. 1.

Mayor Matt Tuerk said he wanted to address areas where "we have come up short" — areas discussed by some of the speakers.

"Gun violence is too high, not just here in Allentown, but across the Lehigh Valley and across the country," Tuerk said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we cannot do it unless we do it together, and that means engaging residents across the city of Allentown and empowering employees working for the city."

He said he was excited to see the speakers' passion and acknowledged the need to bring groups together to find solutions.

Thursday evening at Dieruff High School, Tuerk took questions from the audience following a presentation of his recent State of the City address.

While he couldn't speak to ongoing police investigations surrounding recent incidents on the city's East Side, he said he felt the frustration of residents.

"I'm freaking sick of gun violence in the city," he said, highlighting his membership in a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national movement of mayors who are seeking solutions from federal partners and national partners to reduce the use of illegal guns in their cities.

"We're going to continue to bring attention to everybody who plays a role in making the streets unsafe," he said. "This comes back around to all of us together working to end the disease of violence in the city."

Wednesday's city council meeting also included the hiring of a new director of Parks and Recreation and a new director of Finance for the city; and an honoring of emergency service workers for their work during the trench rescue last month near 15th and Gordon streets.