Police say a language barrier caused the Southwest Philly robbery to turn deadly for a Mali-born student.
In many cultures, including those of West Africa, it is customary to hold a mourning vigil after the death of a friend or family member.
Such a gathering in South Philadelphia’s Elmwood Park, therefore, would only result from the type of tragedy that befell Mali-native Mamadou Makadji last week.
Makadji, 22, who was enrolled in Temple’s Intensive English Language Program, had been in the country for a mere three months when he was gunned down during an attempted robbery August 17.
Makadji and two friends were sitting on a park bench early that Monday morning on the 2800 block of South 71st Street in Southwest Philadelphia when an unknown man approached them, demanding drugs and money, according to police reports. After one of Makadji’s friends – the only one of the three who spoke fluent English – told the man they had neither, the would-be robber told the trio to turn out their pockets.
The assailant, seemingly frustrated by Makadji’s slow reaction, then brandished a .45-caliber handgun and pistol-whipped then shot Makadji, a native French speaker who had trouble understanding the gunman’s demands.
Although the two witnesses were able to escape unharmed, Makadji was pronounced dead shortly after the incident, at 1:28 a.m., after he was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In a statement to The Temple News, a Philadelphia Police spokesperson declined to comment on whether police have identified any suspects or persons of interest in the case.
Capt. James Clark of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit stated that the perpetrator fled the scene without taking anything from Makadji or his friends, according to a press release about the incident.
“This was totally senseless,” he added.
Such sentiments were echoed in the largely West African neighborhood surrounding Elmwood Park – Makadji lived only a few blocks from where he was killed. His uncle, Mame Makadji, owns a modest minimarket nearby.
“In Mali, you have guns for animals – lions, tigers, elephants – not for people,” the elder Makadji said of his nephew’s death. The victim’s parents, who still live in Mali’s capital city of Bamako, heard of their son’s death in an early-morning phone call.
Grief over the loss of Makadji stretched from Bamako’s street to North Broad Street when IELP classmates learned of the incident through Tuttleman Counseling Services.
“Students from all over the world, [including those from countries that have survived recent civil wars] don’t feel safe in Philly,” IELP Community Programs Director Miriam Oppenheimer wrote in an e-mail Thursday. Regardless of their fears, she said, IELP students “rose to the occasion and were very strong under very challenging circumstances.”
Although it is disproportionately rare for Temple students to fall victim to violent crimes, the IELP students’ concerns are not totally unfounded in a city that averaged nearly one murder a day last year.
“[Philadelphia] is getting safer,” Oppenheimer said, adding that the IELP informs its students of basic safety precautions to be taken while traveling into the city. “But it still isn’t safe enough.”
Donald Hoegg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.