Please, Wilmington City Council, Do More Than This!

Filed in Delaware by on December 10, 2013

Last night, one more young person was shot and killed in Wilmington. It is one more tragedy in a city that can’t really take much more of this. But the other thing that the city really can’t take more of is its leadership not facing this issue head on. Last Thursday, the Wilmington City Council passed a resolution asking for the CDC to come to Wilmington to study the causes of violence here. The resolution passed with all votes present (Theo Gregory was away), but the resolution’s sponsor, Hanifa Shabazz, explained why she thought that this was needed:

“What I’m hoping is that we will be able to get some of the supportive resources that have been proven through the process of studying this learned behavior, this violent behavior that’s plaguing our community,” said Shabazz, whose district includes neighborhoods routinely affected by crime.

Shabazz calls the city’s violence a “pandemic” that’s spreading among youth as they become “desensitized” to violence, due to generations of inequality dating back to slavery.

“We all know there’s a post traumatic syndrome that the African American community is still suffering from, from slavery,” said Shabazz. “That has not been cured.”

She said decades of inadequate education, unemployment and other lack of opportunities, on top of the post traumatic stress of slavery and the easy access to guns has created a community filled with dysfunction.

I doubt that pointing at slavery as a cause is at all useful, but addressing the effects of *present* terrorism on some of these communities is a worthwhile thing to deal with. So are better Educational opportunities and opportunity for employment (both of which are really key to resolving the problem and it is really not clear what the CDC will say differently). But here is part of the City’s challenge:

Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz, its primary sponsor, was saddened to hear of Monday night’s fatal shooting, noting that she has a grandson the same age as the boy who was killed.

Shabazz called the latest homicide “continuing proof” that wide-ranging efforts by public safety experts, community leaders and faith-based organizations have not been able to curb gun violence in the city and the CDC’s help is needed.

“We have tried every type of medicine to cure this illness,” she said, calling on the residents to press elected officials to write to the CDC, urging the federal agency to conduct the study and direct resources to the solve problem.

There is simply no universe in which anyone could claim that the city has done everything they could to curb this violence, and points to the real reason for the request for CDC help — passing the buck. City Council (not all, but still) is looking to outsource the definition of the problems instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting focused on the genuinely tough work that dealing with these problems would entail. It would require learning about what other communities have done that was successful, helping to pull together real policy and plans to implement some solutions, insist on some accountability for results and stop helping some of the usual suspects to protect and expand their turf. The lack of accountability of many of the non-profits who claim they are dealing with this is a genuine problem and CDC studies won’t help that. Programs that *do* seem to work (but don’t provide the requisite photo ops) could be better supported — setting up some system of accountability would help those programs that *are* working to get better support and the programs that can’t meet their goals have to survive on their own.

For some ideas here, I’m going to rescue my own comment from last Thursday’s Open Thread:

You know, one of the things I really wonder about is how much money it would take to help control the city’s crime. The WPD is already something like 23 or 24% of the City’s budget. I already think that we don’t necessarily need more money for police — but a better use of these resources is definitely in order. Plus the State has this pretty massive Homeland Security apparatus and I know that Steve and I agree that some of these resources could be put to use in the city to help.

The first thing I’m going to ask is how much does it cost to think more creatively about the city’s issues? Seriously — I read pretty obsessively about the solutions other cities are thinking about and I know people in the city who have been thinking about and proposing interesting solutions for awhile.

Then I’d ask if we could take a good look at existing resources and ask if you could organize them and change their availability so that they are focused on neighborhoods at risk? For instance — Maryland has this Maryland Family Network with Family support centers that exist to help at-risk families learn better parenting skills, maybe even meet parent’s goals for further education or work training, how to prepare toddlers for learning, help parents get medical or social service help they need, provide a supportive network of other parents and so on. Lots of this already exists at the DHSS and other agencies. Why not package it all together and place a center directly in at-risk neighborhoods. And if you think about that, you have the beginnings of what could be the Harlem Children’s project in these neighborhoods.

How much does it cost to provide housing redevelopment incentives or economic incentives? If you use the money to get houses on the tax rolls, maybe using some loans you might get some of that money back. Can you do economic development on Union or Lincoln Sts that might not need the big company giveaways?

The real big ticket item is schools and we’ve been through that. Investment across the board is definitely needed, but perhaps we should take a hard look at what is already available and build from there.

No one expects the City to resolve this problem on their own, but the City needs to be a part of thinking about solutions, figuring out what is available and working the the State and local non-profits to find out what they can do now, what they might be able to do with some extra resources and what they might be able to do TOGETHER. Who in City Council would even do this kind of work? Not enough of them, that’s for sure, even though some of these approaches really even don’t need much from the Administration to make happen. It does take recognizing that there are solutions out there, there are people who are at the State who are specifically supposed to work on some of the issues that concern us, and it is up to us to ask for this help. The CDC may or may not do this study (President Obama gave the CDC permission finally to study gun violence by Executive Order — but since Congress allocates funds, no one is sure whether they’ll do it.) and it is often referenced as possibly a way to get funds to deal with the issue. Maybe, but how about looking at some of the resources already available at the State level? Has anyone even asked any of these folks how they can help?

While I’m here — the Philly paper reports on a Community Policing strategy that reduced crime about 40% over the past year.

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  1. Unstable Isotope says:

    Actually, I have read that here’s been success at analyzing crime the same way a disease outbreak is studied. It can predict where it may happen next and resources can be targeted to those areas. That’s probably where this talk of the CDC is coming from.

  2. LeBay says:

    I’m surprised that this post has no comments thus far. There’s a lot of meat here.

    Both Cassandra_m and I have been in meetings w/ Ms. Shabbazz. These would be meetings where she expressed the opinion that her employment by Connections CSP, Inc. was not in conflict w/ her position on City Council. City Council has no idea what the terms “ethics” and “the appearance of impropriety” mean. This is Delaware, after all!

    Seriously, bringing up slavery and slavery-related PTSD really doesn’t help anyone, especially the law abiding (I hate that term-the gun nuts have ruined it for me) people who live in the violence infested neighborhoods in Wilmington.

    Maybe, but how about looking at some of the resources already available at the State level? Has anyone even asked any of these folks how they can help?

    Probably not, and the Wilmo Council, and especially the Mayor’s office probably wouldn’t listen to whatever the state or county gummints had to say anyway.

    The whole situation is sad and depressing.

  3. cassandra_m says:

    UI, I think you might be reading about a thing called predictive policing, where models using data on past crime incidents predict where the next incidents may come from so that police departments can better deploy resources. I think that NCCo is using this. The CDC study is meant to look at WHY the crime is happening, look for patterns and recommend solutions.

  4. mediawatch says:

    Actually, given that Williams and Gordon essentially ran as a team in last year’s Democratic primaries, and both are former cops, and Gordon has a track record from his prior terms as county exec of channeling county funds into the city, and Gordon is quite sensitive about not wanting more crime from the city spilling into the ‘burbs — when you put all that together, you’ve got the potential for some city-county policing collaboration.
    What you don’t have, and may never have, is the support of a majority of council for any Gordon initiatives that would direct funds and possibly manpower into the city. Gordon is already finding it’s tougher to twist the arms of 13 council members than it was to control the seven-member council he had the first time around. Not to mention that David Grimaldi pales in comparison to Sherry Freebery in applying the pressure.

  5. AQC says:

    While I’m not against the CDC doing a study, I am so angry that we are not doing the obvious things that Cassandra points out, and some others, I.e, truancy and curfew programs that actually direct kids to support services instead of the courts, structured and supervised recreational activities, jobs, etc.

  6. cassandra m says:

    @mediawatch — The WPD and the NCCoPD have been cross-sworn (not sure if this is the right term) so they can operate across jurisdictions. AND the State Police have been in the city helping to patrol and respond to calls. The State Police seem to have quietly withdrawn — one thing that is true is that the WPD doesn’t want other PDs operating on their turf. City-county collaboration would work if the city would cooperate.

  7. citydem says:

    I give Shabazz credit for thinking outside of the box- whatever the outcome- but the issue on Public Safety ultimately must be coming out of the Executive- they may co opt ideas, people, grant proposals form Council – but does it serve the public and the Mayor or Council to be seen as running parts of the public safety program from the floor? we already have WPD concerns on Police leadership and micromanagement.

  8. cassandra m says:

    Thinking outside of the box is useful when it produces a solution or pathway to a solution. Calling in the Centers for Disease Control to study why the city is violent bypasses everything we already know about the problem. Heck, you could go see Dr. Payne’s movie and get a pretty decent handle on the problem. Because Wilmington’s public safety problem is bigger than policing and it is time to come to terms with that and start dealing with it.

  9. AGovernor says:

    Council is acting in response to pressure from their constituents who believe their council person and the at-large council persons can affect change.

    We are all frustrated at the number of shootings and the continued loss of life and the seeming inability to end it.

  10. cassandra m says:

    Actually, they are NOT acting (mostly), even though they are getting plenty of pressure from constituents.

  11. AGovernor says:

    @Cassandra_m You are correct “acting” is not the correct word. My brain is failing to bring forth the correct word.

    Maybe throwing out ideas, no matter how ineffective, to give the appearance they are “acting”.

    Time to consult the thesaurus to find the correct words to describe what the City of Wilmington “leaders” are doing.

  12. citydem says:

    Great article on “predictive policing and a slew of other management and policing initiatives that have REDUCED City of Philadelphia – homicide rates down to pre- 1967 levels- this past Sunday’s Inq. – wondered if anyone has reviewed these stats downtown.

  13. cassandra_m says:

    Thank you, citydem — this is what a violent crime reduction plan and executing on it looks like.

    Mayor Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and District Attorney Seth Williams say the reduction reflects a sustained commitment to a crime-fighting plan that combined data-driven law enforcement and old-school, shoe-leather police work. The plan targets gun criminals and the most violent neighborhood “hot spots.”

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