The Newsweek effect on Wilmington

 This screen grab shows the headline that's generated some controversy in Wilmington.

This screen grab shows the headline that's generated some controversy in Wilmington.

Newsweek magazine has given Wilmington an unflattering title of “Murder Town USA.”  John Watson examines the impact.

Here is John Watson’s commentary:

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams has another “situation” on his hands. Newsweek magazine has named Wilmington “Murder Town USA,” taking aim at our well known violent crime epidemic. So why is this a new problem for our Mayor, you ask? Consider this: 

A few weeks ago, Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams launched the Grow Wilmington Fund. The idea was to grow jobs in the city by attracting new businesses and building our economy. The funds would be available those interested in developing new business opportunities in the First State’s largest city.

The joint project with New Castle County could stumble a bit because of Newsweek magazine telling the world about how dangerous it is to live, work, and do business in “Murder Town USA.”

I hope Mayor Williams isn’t losing any sleep over any of this. He and the city deserve better. 

But the crime problem isn’t just a bad dream.  Some of those business owners who were considering the expansion of their dreams by coming here might want to see if things get better first.

Here’s what we face in both the problem and the reporting.  It’s reported that the writer of the Newsweek piece, Abigail Jones, spent four days in Wilmington in November. During that time 4 people were shot, and the day after she left one person was killed, and another one was shot.

So far this year (and the numbers could go up), we have tied the record with 27 homicides in the city, including 22 by guns. Jones had been warned about the danger of doing interviews for her piece in one of Wilmington’s most violent neighborhoods. Jones also outlined recently released FBI statistics that show Wilmington’s rate of violence was 1,625 per 100,000 residents. That’s more than quadruple the national average.

The Newsweek piece also highlights a News Journal analysis showing Wilmington ranking third in violence among cities of 50,000 to 100,000 people. Wilmington ranks 6th highest, up from 8th last year, among the 650 cities with 50,000 or more residents. Wilmington has 71,000 residents. 

Here are some of Jones’ findings through conversations politicians, police and community activists. 

“When you ask people in Wilmington about the root cause of the city crime epidemic, their answers read like the Devil’s Christmas List: poverty, racism, lack of economic opportunities, drugs, alcohol abuse, gun violence, high dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, stressed families and more,” she wrote. 

Mayor Williams told Jones education was a key issuing, especially for a city has a 60 percent dropout rate. “It should have never got to this point,” she quoted Williams as saying. He added, “The state has been running the school districts since 1975.”

Williams declined the opportunity to answer questions about the Newsweek article dealing with the different crime fighting initiatives that had been tried and failed, and those now being tried in fighting the city’s wave of violence.

Jones said she wrote the article because she wondered why Wilmington, the birth place of the DuPont Company, and the home of most of the public U.S. corporations, was approaching a record number of homicides, but had just formed a homicide unit.  

It occurs to me that many Wilmington residents wonder about the same thing. I do. Jones said she was stunned by the meeting of those two situations. She also wanted to know and understand how Wilmington’s crime ridden neighborhoods got to where they are today.

Mayor Williams is working with the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal law enforcement authorities are trying to help the city identify long term solutions to our violent crime problem. Hopefully he will be more successful than in the past.

That could be the boost that the Grow Wilmington Fund idea needs.

As expected, the ugly head of Negative Politics raised its head in this serious situation.

It came in the person of John Fluharty, Executive Director of the Delaware Republican Party, saying Wilmington’s violent crime epidemic is caused by the Democrats, who control state and Wilmington politics. He believes that group should find a solution.

“For too long the Democratic Party machine has used Wilmington as their ATM for votes to win elections, only to turn around and neglect the needs of its citizens,” said Fluharty.

He added, “Wilmington residents deserve better than they are getting from their elected officials. It’s time for the Democrats to provide solutions, not excuses”. 

And what do I think about that? I say, if Mr. Fluharty had something to offer by now, it seems to me that his party, the Tea Party Republicans, would be in power. And obviously, the state and city Residents don’t like that kind of “My way or the highway” politics. 

John Watson is a former Wilmington radio talk show host.  We invite your comments on his thoughts.

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