The Camden neighborhood known as Pyne Poynt is ten blocks wide and six blocks long. At its northern most point lies a park that sits nearly even with the water table, along the serpentine shores of the Delaware River. Car seats and engine parts, hypodermic needles and polythene baggies spot the park sandlot making it nearly indistinguishable from the woods and clearings on either side, which are used by junkies to cook and shoot heroin.
Two weeks ago I was driving through Pyne Poynt with three kids in my backseat. They play baseball in the Pyne Poynt sandlot for the North Camden Little League, which was revitalized two years ago by community organizer Bryan Morton. One of the three kids, Miguel Perez, is the subject of a documentary I am currently filming on the troubles in North Camden, and how the league aims to stop it.
As we rolled through the 6th street corridor, known colloquially as Heroin Highway, the corner boys began to shout: "dope, dope, I got that boy, powder..."
The three in the back seat started laughing.
"They think you a fiend man. They see you white, and they think you 'bout to buy drugs."
A 12-year-old shouldn't have the capacity to make that connection and shouldn't have to understand it. But the children of North Camden have developed certain insights into the world, borne largely of necessity. Last year Camden had 67 murders in a city of just 77,000. Per capita, that is nearly as high as Honduras, the murder capital of the world. One of those murders was Miguel's aunt.
When we arrived at the field to celebrate the win with the rest of the team, there was a cake and a stack of pizzas piled high on a nearby bench. In these moments I peer our at the river burnished with the orange light of the Philadelphia skyline, toward the kids in uniform rolling in the grass, at the few parents waiting in their minivans and I think I could be anywhere else, suburbia. But then four addicts stumble out of the blue port-a-potties in hunchbacked gaits, unloosening their belts from their punctured forearms and sitting by the grass to watch.
"Pop the trunk," says Coach Angel to his wife, Dana. "I got to get my bat."
"We're going, we're going," say the Greek chorus of junkies. They left quickly, only under threat of force.
Rough estimations place at least 170 open-air drug markets in Camden, and most of them are in North Camden and Pyne Poynt.
"Each day the children of the North Camden Little League walk past drug sets and open air drug use," says league President Bryan Morton. "They fight just to get here, to play baseball." In Camden, selling drugs would be easy; playing baseball is hard.
When I first began to talk to Morton and other families about our crew invading their lives to bring their stories to life on-screen, the first thing he said was, "just don't Brian Williams me."
What he was referring to is a 10-minute TV package Williams created on Camden back in March. Williams took what veteran Camden beat reporters refer to as "the tour." It's a formula the media has used to cover Camden for decades.
Quote Walt Whitman. Stop by Sacred Heart Church to speak with Reverend Michael Doyle. Have him say, "Beauty will save us." What a charming Irish accent. Cut to b-roll of mothers on their haunches crying over makeshift crosses. Pass through bombed out buildings along Haddon and Erie. Ask police Chief Scott Thompson how he maintains hope. The people, of course, his wonderful connection with the people. Williams all the while is poking his head out of the window, pausing intermittently to tell us something like, "Look at this," sounding vaguely like David Attenborough on safari.
That is not the film we're shooting. Cinematographer Gabe Dinsmoor and I returned earlier this week from Miguel's graduation. His mother is overcoming addiction and received a flower from him as she watched him receive his diploma. He was happy to have her present, and is as proud of her as she is of him. In July we will attend his grandmother's baptismal ceremony. Another teammate is completing youth fireman training, which we have filmed and continue to. Miguel wants to be an EMT, and Joey has overcome the death of four family members to attend the LEAP academy and is closer than he has ever been to graduating.
These stories are inconvenient for the media at large. They don't fit the formula. So we're bringing them to life on film instead.
To learn more about this project, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/663144724/pyne-point-0
To view the previous works of cinematographer Gabe Dinsmoor, visit http://www.gabedinsmoor.com/
All photos credited to Gabe Dinsmoor