Shootings and homicides rise in Wilmington in 2019

Gun violence in the city has ticked up over the previous year, but it's not even close to the record-setting carnage Wilmington saw in 2017.

The number of Wilmington shootings rose in 2019 from a year earlier but were far below the record bloodshed of 2017. (WHYY file)

The number of Wilmington shootings rose in 2019 from a year earlier but were far below the record bloodshed of 2017. (WHYY file)

Walter Davis pondered Wilmington’s plague of gun violence while recently walking to his home in the Hilltop neighborhood.

Davis, who works for a nonprofit providing services to people with mental illness, was on the 100 block of North Harrison Street, where a 14-year-old boy was shot on Dec. 14.

“It’s pretty bad,” Davis said, even after learning that the carnage this year, while much worse than 2018, was far below record levels set in 2017.

In 2019 a total of 112 people were shot on Wilmington’s streets, and 24 killed, including a suspect slain by police.

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In 2018, 79 people were shot, and that figure represented a nearly 60% decrease from the bloodshed of 2017, when there were 197 shooting victims and 34 killed.

As the violence has escalated, police have only announced only one arrest in the 23 murders.

Police chief Robert Tracy and Mayor Mike Purzycki declined to discuss this year’s numbers. A spokesman said the chief will speak about the statistics after the department tallies the final figures and releases them.

Davis said he’s not surprised that only one of the 25 murders has been solved.

“The culture is ‘don’t tell’ and stuff like that, so I think that culture kind of gets in the way of progress of solving crimes. It’s been like that for a long time,’’ he said. “A lot of times, people — they fear for their life, or they think if they snitch or something like that they become another statistic.”

Despite the rise in violence, Davis did give cops credit for trying to make the streets safer and said he’s noticed some results.

Walter Davis says fewer homicides are solved because witnesses fear they will be the “next statistic.’’ (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“They post up in areas that are high in crime,’’ Davis said. “Strategically, they have a bigger presence now. To me, they seem like they interact more than they did in the past. And they are not as aggressive as they used to be, so it’s not that tension with the cops.”

Lakesha Hawkins, a certified nursing assistant, agreed. She spoke with WHYY at 24th and Market streets, which traditionally has been beset by gunshots.

“I feel it’s pretty rough here,’’ Hawkins said, but “I think that it’s calmed down a lot, maybe since the last year, and the cops, they’re doing their jobs. They’re out there … more than in the past.”

“It’s safer for me to come down here and go to the store and even walk in town or what have you because there’s not a lot of people out here,” she said.

City Council President Hanifa Shabazz noted that Wilmington has rebounded from 2017. She gave kudos to police for focusing on community engagement and said grassroots efforts are also paying off.

“There’s a lot of different organizations doing youth programs and trying to get youth involved in positive things, so I think that’s also helping,” Shabazz said, “But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”

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