OUT & ABOUT: Hands Off My Handbag!

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HANDS OFF Denise's handbag, guys!

HANDS OFF Denise’s handbag, guys!

BY DENISE CLAY/ I love a good handbag.

Handbags and shoes are kind of a weakness for me. If I had the kind of money that you need to have for that kind of thing I’d have a closet filled with Coach, Prada, Dooney & Bourke and Zodiac handbags. If I were really flush, I’d probably have a Kate Spade or a Michael Kors in my arsenal of bagdom.

As it stands, I have a couple of nice bags, including a Liz Claibourne I bought for my Mom before she died and a Coach that Mom bought me for Christmas one year. I very rarely have has much as these bags cost in my wallet at any one time, but the bags are guaranteed for life and look really nice.

But in the City of Brotherly Love and Put The Damned Gun Down, having a really nice handbag can get you killed these days. A series of high-profile purse snatchings turned shootings/homicides has made women ask themselves if carrying their handbags is worth the trouble.

And it’s made one woman, Tyema Sanchez, of Northern Liberties, decide that it’s time to take to the streets.

On Saturday morning at 9 a.m., women from around the city and the men who love them will gather at 53rd & Market, the scene of the latest purse-snatching/homicide, for a Handbags 4 Peace, a rally designed to bring awareness to what’s becoming an issue of safety over convenience.

The first of the latest round of fatal purse snatchings happened in Sanchez’s neighborhood when 26-year-old Amber Long was shot and killed trying to hold on to her purse as her Mom watched. That the shooter was still at large had everyone kind of on edge, Sanchez said.

Next, a 24-year-old man was shot while trying to get his 23-year-old girlfriend’s bag back from a purse snatcher at 29th & Lehigh.

But the latest fatal purse snatching, the one that happened outside of the Tropical Heat nightclub at 53rd & Market Streets, was the last straw, Sanchez said. Twenty-nine-year-old Melissa Thomas was coming out of the club with a friend after a night of karaoke. Her friend was also shot, but survived her wounds.

What made this stand out is Thomas did what you’re supposed to do in an instance like this: She gave up the handbag.

“This girl that was shot this weekend gave up her pocketbook, so now what?!” Sanchez said. “Do I carry one now? Do I not? I don’t think that my pocketbook should be my death ticket.”

So she went to where all social movements seem to be starting these days, Facebook, and expressed her feelings of frustration.

“I went on Facebook and said that we need to come together to do something that makes the streets a lot safer,” Sanchez said. “A lot of women understood how I felt.”

While rallies seem to be a dime a dozen these days, something folks told her when she suggested one, Sanchez decided to take it to the streets because this rash of purse-snatchings is a manifestation of a deeper problem.

“The mentality of people has changed over the last 20 years,” she said. “There are people out there that have no love or respect for each other. There’s no encouragement or self-love. You have men out there that are just killing people for no reason. It’s sad. Something has to be done.”

Now, we say “something has to be done” a lot here in Philly when it comes to violence. While there are folks among us that can remember when women and children and Senior Citizens were off limits on the streets when it came to who to victimize, I can’t. I came to Philly as a student at Temple in 1987 and heard about muggings, purse snatchings, people being beaten up and other things…and anyone was fair game.

And practically from the moment I became a part of the city’s media community, I’ve covered at least one gathering a year where a group of men, mostly older, almost always African American and some Latino, have gotten together and promised to take our streets back.

I want to give them an “A” for effort. I want to pat things like the 10,000 Men movement on the back. I want to cheer these things and give them support.

But while the ramp-up is nice, and it’s something to cover, the “there” isn’t “there” after a few months … and no one is taken to the woodshed for that.

Sanchez thinks that needs to change.

“It’s time for us to come back to being a village,” she said. “Crime has no color. We have to start figuring out ways to protect ourselves and to teach our children better. We have to hold politicians and our City Council people accountable. We can’t do it alone. We need help.”

Sanchez also says we need to hold the community accountable as well. That’s true. When you can show up for court, but not your kid’s graduation, that’s a problem. If you can show up to the club, but not to the town-watch meeting, that’s a problem. If you don’t know where your kids are and it’s midnight, that’s a problem.

And we need to figure out a way to solve it.

I’ll be at Saturday’s rally. Join me if you can. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the woman with the small green and brown suede handbag.

It was Mom’s … and it’s big enough to hold a notepad.

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