Chanting “We want peace,” about 100 students, alongside Wilmington police officers and Mayor Dennis Williams, voiced their hopes through downtown Wilmington.
Students from the Brandywine, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Christina School Districts marched up Market Street to Rodney Square Friday afternoon hoping to encourage other young people to think of ways they can help turn things around in a city that lived through record-setting violence last year.
Master Corporal Anthony Bowers, a school resource officer at Douglass Alternative School in Wilmington, came up with the idea.
“We have [an] increase in crimes and our victims and suspects are getting younger in age so I thought that maybe the police, we can reach [out] to our students now… so when they’re older maybe they can help decrease the crime,” Bowers said.
Jose Dejesus, 17, knows firsthand how tough growing up within city limits can be. He used to live on the north side, near 24th and Market Streets, until his mom decided to move to Bear to get away from the danger.
“Being inside the city, it was a lot of encouragement to do bad things and a lot of that inner-self telling you to do wrong,” Dejesus said, one of the student leaders in today’s march. “I would like… to encourage the young teen generation and the new upcoming generations to break the chains of violence and help and support one another progress in life, instead of pulling us down inside the violence.”
“Maybe [the] community can see now that the students are involved, maybe that can also help decrease the crime,” said Bowers.
Turning the city around
“With the last breath of air in my body, I guarantee we will turn this city around,” Mayor Dennis Williams said at Rodney Square following the march.
The mayor says a new community-based policing plan that divides the city into three sectors, in place since mid-January, has put the brakes on crime, with crime and shootings down 60 percent in “hot zone” areas.
“We are now chasing people into other parts of the county, but we got ’em on the run. And we’re going after them there too,” Williams said, saying strike force teams, more commonly referred to as jump out squads, comprised of city, county and state police, are helping make a dent.
“We have a multi-faceted law enforcement commitment now where things are working out. And things are going to get better, they really are, because we figured it out,” the mayor said.
Establishing trust between the community and police early on, Williams says, is also key to further decrease the crime rate in Delaware’s largest city.
“Once [people] start working with police at a young age, they tend to trust you… because they know you as an individual,” Williams said. “If you have a good relationship with police, a good experience, you’ll tend to keep that for the rest of your life.”
Williams recalls seeing Wilmington police officers helping an elderly man when he was a kid. He believes that moment played a significant role in his deciding to become a police officer himself.
Williams believes the city’s crime-fighting philosophy of strengthening relationships and increasing visibility in neighborhoods will encourage other individuals to start making smarter career and life decisions, making the city safer in the long run.
Plans are also in the works to tackle crime through a program called, Cure Violence, where people go out and mediate before violence takes place.
Keep them busy
Williams says young people need to be engaged to prevent crime early on, which is why he has committed to investing almost half a million dollars more into pools and parks.
“We’re gonna open the pools again by Memorial Day, we’re gonna keep the recreational centers open, we’re gonna do arts in the park, we’re gonna keep our feeding program,” said Williams who is also looking into hiring a nutritionist to teach kids and their families how to eat healthily, a vendor who will teach kids foreign languages and provide tutoring in the parks during the summer.
“Kids need more than a basketball, and a pool table and a swimming pool. If they’re getting computer training, speaking foreign languages, traveling — this is very important.”
Williams is confident all of these pieces, together with job programs and putting away the bad guys, will make a dent in the city’s crime problem.