Philadelphia police shut down 11 blocks of South Street between 1 and 2 a.m. Sunday after officers decided that large crowds, estimated as high as 20,000 people, were in danger of overwhelming the area.
Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said Saturday night’s crowds apparently swelled because of rumors among local teenagers about the Greek Picnic, once an annual event that drew thousands of members of African American college fraternities and sororities to the city.
While it was not held this year, a substitute event, which had difficulty securing a venue, drew some Greeks to the city.
Vanore said local teenagers often had flocked to South Street on the Saturday night of the picnic.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated disturbance around 7 p.m. Sunday in Old City, police said they were investigating a large fight that broke out in which two people were stabbed and taken to nearby hospitals. Authorities said the fight took place at Chestnut and Letitia Streets.
A 19-year-old man was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with a stab wound to the right forearm and was listed in stable condition. Another man, with a wound to the abdomen, was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital where he was taken into surgery. No additional information about his age or his condition was available Sunday night.
Vanore said authorities were sorting through information last night to determine what started the brawl.
In the disturbance on South Street in the early morning hours Sunday, police shut down South Street with the help of state police mounted officers. Some local youths then headed toward Broad Street, prompting reports of disturbances there, Vanore said.
Vanore said those problems were relatively minor, with 15 arrests for summary offenses such as disorderly conduct and underage drinking.
“The problems we have had nothing to do with the Greek Picnic events, and they never have,” Vanore said. “The problem we have is that kids just kind of congregate on that night.”
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Cory Johnson, one of the organizers of the substitute event, Philly Greek Weekend, said Saturday night’s problems were unfairly linked to college fraternity and sorority alumni.
He said he and a friend designed Philly Greek Weekend after the Philadelphia chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council decided not to hold the traditional Greek Picnic. Officials of the council could not be reached for comment.
Johnson, a Baltimore native who lives in the Fairmount section, said about 900 people signed up for Philly Greek Weekend, a program that was to have included a church service, a volunteer work day at a historically black swim club in Yeadon, and a pool party at the club on Friday night followed by a picnic there Saturday.
But Johnson said that Yeadon officials went to court July 1 to block the Nile Swim Club from hosting the events. Among their objections were concerns about the use of alcohol at the club, although Johnson said the pool events were planned as alcohol-free.
After the Yeadon events were blocked, a plan to move the picnic to Neshaminy State Park didn’t work well, either – even before Saturday’s storms made picnicking problematic.
Johnson said Sunday that park officials told the group, ” ‘You can come out here, but we really don’t want you to be out here in an organized fashion.’ “
Johnson said he told people who signed up for Philly Greek Weekend “not to go down to South Street because we don’t want them to be involved with any of the negative activity that goes on down there.”
A 2008 Temple graduate, Johnson works as an accountant at Aramark. As a proud member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, he said he envisioned Philly Greek Weekend as a way “to give a new face and new look” to college alumni associated with African American fraternities and sororities.
As the weekend ended, he said he felt frustrated.
“I mainly feel that members of Greek organizations are being labeled as bad individuals, rowdy individuals, because of the different things that happened during Philly Greek weekends that have had nothing to do with Greeks,” he said. “In the end, nobody wins.”