Local deli manager Justin Harris is teaming up with Philly Truce to form Peace Patrols on Germantown blocks most affected by gun violence

Justin Harris, otherwise known as “The Hoagie Guy with the Tie,” is the deli manager at A and N Produce at Greene & Harvey Streets. After hearing about the shooting in Germantown of teenager Semaj Fields, Harris felt compelled to take action. 

Harris reflected on his response to the tragedy, saying, “So Semaj Fields was a 16-year-old who was murdered on Germantown and Wister about two weeks ago by gunfire. And something about that really clicked with me. Like, I’m sure we knew him, or we made food for him or his family. So that prompted me to call Mr. Nick Taliaferro of WDAS and WURD, who’s a reverend.”

Harris had heard of Reverend Taliaferro’s work and reached out to him specifically about the gun violence. Taliaferro guided him to Philly Truce, a community organization that created a violence mediation app, and Operation Hug the Block, a peace patrol campaign originally spearheaded by Philly Truce co-founder Mazzie Casher and anti-gun violence advocate Jamal Johnson of Stop Killing Us. The operation involved nightly vigils on blocks with ten or more shootings since 2015.  

“Community-led visible deterrence is the most effective tool we’ve encountered to diminish opportunities for violence in public areas,” said Casher, talking about the initiative. “This is evidenced by our experiences,” added Steven Pickens, Philly Truce’s other co-founder.

Harris said he’s always been about action and standing up for those who can’t stand for themselves, but he has never set up anything like this before. He knew it was just something that needed to be done, and after talking to Casher and the Philly Truce team, it all worked very quickly.

From those conversations came the new Operation Hug The Block—Uptown Chapter, which will commence next Thursday, April 18, 2024, and will continue indefinitely. These patrols will follow the same spirit as the original and aim to deter gun violence through community engagement and vigilance.

“Right now is a time that I feel in this city, but overall, we just need action. We need the strong members of the community to be out there. It’s not the best thing in the world for everybody. It’s not the most convenient to take peace walks, but just the level of interest from the community– I know we’re doing the right thing,” said Harris.

In collaboration with Philly Truce, Harris has identified three zones to serve three neighborhoods over three evenings: 

  • Zone 1: Happy Hollow will assemble at the playground of the same name on Thursdays at 7 p.m. 
  • Zone 2: Chew & Chelten will convene in the parking lot of Fresh Grocer at the corner of Chew Ave. & Church Lane on Fridays at 7 p.m. 
  • Zone 3: Germantown & Wister, the site of the recent tragedy, will gather in the parking lot at that intersection on Saturdays at 7 p.m.

Tonight, April 12, at 7:00 p.m., community members and personnel from the 14th police district will receive free hoagies as they converge at Crossroads Evangelistic Church, 139 E. Chelten Ave., 19144, to inaugurate the new peace patrol partnership. 

Harris shares that community members have already shown interest, saying people are already reaching out online. He says, “It’s beautiful.”

To participate in the peace patrols or learn more information, visit Philly Truce’s Operation Hug The Block project page or contact Justin Harris at (267) 957-6563.

Harris ends by saying, “I think in the face of tragedy, you know, the beauty of the community can really hammer home change and what we want to see change. Because we all want change, but until we kind of vocalize what it is that we want to change, it’s not really going to materialize.”