People can bury their heads in the sand and say Newsweek was being hyperbolic, but when the state’s top prosecutor says “Murder Town” is accurate, you’ve got problems.
Most Americans associate the phrase “a date which will live in infamy” with December 7, the day back in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
In Delaware, residents and policy makers have decided to push it back a couple of days to December 9, the day Newsweek published a scathing, 5,000 word story about violence and crime in Wilmington, which they dubbed, “Murder Town USA.”
After the article was published, were heard from two constant, predictable sources: politicians and police officials who blasted the article as a “grossly inaccurate characterization,” and business owners and community leaders, who content the media focuses on the bad and ignores the good.
But a funny thing happened: Kathleen Jennings, the state’s chief prosecutor, called Newsweek’s story “accurate,” and noted “the world of Delaware needs to hear the truth.”
I’ve written and drawn a lot about violence in Wilmington, enough to know that despite hard work by many, many nonprofits and well-meaning souls in and around the city, things don’t seem to be getting any better. Sure, anyone can point to the Riverfront or Market Street and say things are being blown out of portion, but a city of 70,000 is more than just a couple of blocks large, and we need more than the success of the COIN Loft to bring real jobs to the city.
Back on December 19, Derrick Caudle became the city’s 28th homicide this year, one short of the 29 the city experienced in 2010. One man, who refused to be identified, told the News Journal that he was frustrated with slow response time by the police and that he’s “just working to get the hell out of here.”
The facts are sobering. Despite promises by Mayor Dennis Williams to crack down on gang members and criminals, Wilmington once again ranks third in violence among comparable cities, and rose from eighth to sixth among about 750 cities with populations greater than 50,000. To put that into perspective, Baltimore (you know, where “The Wire” took place), ranked 12th.
Add to that recently released FBI statistics that revel Wilmington’s rate of violence is 1,625 per 100,000 residents, more than quadruple the national average.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The city did finally create its first homicide unit, which includes five police detectives, two retired detectives and two federal agents. However, considering the unit is simply a shift in resources and not additional manpower, I remain hopeful, but skeptical.
There’s also ShotSpotter, a new technology which led police to four arrests by detecting gunshots as they happen and triangulating their location on a map. Camden has gone a long way to fighting back crime thanks to technology such as this. In fact, according to the New York Times, shootings in Camden are down 43 percent in two years, and violent crime down 22 percent.
In fact, as of Dec. 9, the number of homicides in Camden dropped to 28 (yes, the same as Wilmington), more than a 50 percent decrease from the 58 it saw in 2012. While I don’t know how to fix Wilmington’s ongoing problem (I’m only a cartoonist after all), a trip by Mayor Williams across the Delaware to see what’s working there would seem to make sense.
Can someone find Mayor Williams and give him this suggestion? He seems to be a hard guy to reach these days.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter@RobTornoe