Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Monday, March 16, 2015

The People's Revolution in Wilmington, Delaware

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“This revolution goes on and on!”
— Public Enemy, Say it Like it Really Is

by Alicia Benjamin

Imani Henry of Wilmington, Del. won the Peace First Prize last year when she was 13, for organizing 100 Men Reading, a group of professional businessmen who mentor children through reading. Imani, who had trouble reading because of a birth defect, was matched with male tutors who helped her with reading when she was 9. She soon developed a great passion for books and wanted other young people with literacy problems to get the help they needed, so she started 100 Men Reading.

Imani Henry
Her accolades are well deserved and shine a positive light on her hometown, which has been overshadowed by appalling news such as the “Murder Town USA” label Newsweek magazine gave the city in a December article.

Yes, Wilmington has captured the attention of both Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal over the past few months — not for uplifting stories like Imani’s, but for the high crime rate and devastating effects poverty, apathy, and poor quality education have had on the low-income residents of Wilmington.

The FBI reported that Wilmington, with a population of just 71,000, had a violent-crime rate of 1,625 per 100,000 people in 2013, which includes murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The national average was 368 per 100,000 people. That makes the city the third most violent among those of comparable size.

Is Wilmington really so bad? Consider this:

• In Newsweek’s article “Murder Town USA,” the publication reported that poor black families are disproportionately affected by crime and violence in Wilmington, which has a 58 percent African American population.

• The police department is 70 percent white and 21 percent black

• The People’s Report, a participatory action research (PAR) project completed in 2013, found high levels of violence, unemployment, poor schooling opportunities, and dropout rates, among the 520 young black men and women Wilmington residents they interviewed.

• At the urging of U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, the Department of Justice has selected Wilmington, along with Oakland, Calif., Camden, N.J., Chicago, Detroit, and Richmond, Calif., to participate in their Violence Reduction Network. The program consists of federal law enforcement officials coming to the selected cities to study the problems, offering advice and training.

In “Delaware’s Biggest City Struggles with High Murder Rate,” a February Wall Street Journal article, the writer seems to spend a lot of time examining how the violence in Wilmington “has unnerved some in the corporate community.” In the piece, reporter Scott Calvert points out that about 17,000 banking employees work in downtown Wilmington, and oh my goodness, Vice President Joe Biden’s family owns a house five miles from downtown.

Why should we care about that?

Delaware Attorney General, Matthew Denn, told Calvert that the city’s image may sway existing companies to leave Wilmington and prevent recruiting efforts to attract other companies to move there.

What does this say?

“Their concern with violence is about how it affects them, for the most part,” Dr. Yasser Payne, Associate Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, told Cappuccino Soul.

“They’re bottom-line driven about profit and economic outcomes. The banking industry is more concerned about stopping violence to sustain their profit margins.”

If they’re smart, they’ll pay close attention to the findings of The People’s Report researchers. Payne, who led the PAR project, trained and led 15 Wilmington residents (21 to 48 years old) from the Southbridge and the East Side communities, to interview 500 respondents who are also from those neighborhoods. The People’s Report shows a link between structural violence and crime in Wilmington.

In his 2014 Ted Talk presentation, “Walk With Me,” Payne said the best way for leaders to help make it better for black and brown people in Wilmington who are being traumatized by violence is by “literally and figuratively, walking with those persons that may be street identified to more deeply understand their lived experiences.”

Payne went on to say, “We must begin to develop interventions with them — not in spite of them. We must begin to find safe ways to stop the vicious structural conditions that work to shape and create a street identity. And then we must be brave enough to allow those observations to inform our notions of help.” The PAR team members, who come from and sympathize with the communities they studied, are expected to come up with ways to help make their communities better.


Professor Yasser Payne and Darryl Chambers, PAR member and doctoral student in the
Criminology Program at the Univ. of Delaware
The findings of the report are disturbing. A majority of those surveyed reported losing at least one family member and at least one friend to gun violence. The researchers discovered that economic well-being and lack of quality schools is predictive of physical violence.

“The study found that nearly 70 percent of men in these neighborhoods between 18-35 were unemployed and nearly 62 percent of the women,” Payne said during his Ted Talk. “We also found at the time of the study that 100 percent of all black boys in the Southbridge neighborhood were dropping out of high school. One hundred percent!”

Payne says structural inequality is inescapable for some people in a capitalist system. “We live in a capitalist society that requires bad schools and unemployment for many in the black and brown community,” he said. “Martin Luther King didn’t die because he was trying to improve race relations, he was assassinated because he was fighting against capitalism,” Payne asserted.

Opening the eyes of the black and brown people of Wilmington about why there aren’t enough jobs for everyone, why the dropout rate in Wilmington is so high, and how they are structurally situated to live in poverty, is one of the outcomes Payne would like to see come from The People’s Report.

Although the media and government officials have been devising plans to curb violence in Wilmington, that’s not the sole issue, Payne said.

“The bigger issue is not violence; it’s the exposure to violence,” he said. “People in these communities are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is affecting the psyche of individuals and the community as a whole. Most people in low income neighborhoods aren’t violent. Help is needed to protect residents from the violence.”

That’s why some of the comments included in the Newsweek article smack of callousness and disdain.

For example, when Newsweek reporter Abigail Jones asks Corporal Cannon of the Wilmington Police force “what it takes for a child in the worst parts of Wilmington to make it out,” Cannon replies — “Parents who actually give a shit.

This implies that if only parents in Wilmington’s poor communities would just “give a shit,” their children wouldn’t be subject to the ills of the poverty they live in and everything would be alright.

Could it be that parents who can find living wage jobs to support their families; parents who can locate quality and effective schools for their children; and parents who have access to affordable and safe housing might also be able to raise happy, healthy, safe, well-educated, and well-adjusted children?

As Jones and Corporal Cannon and another Wilmington policeman travel around Wilmington streets, Cannon tells the reporter, “It’s not the older ones we’re worried about,” referring to boys they see walking in the streets. “It’s the young 14-, 15-year-olds. They all have guns.”

Do they really all have guns? Is he saying here that all of the young teenage boys in Wilmington have guns and exist only to commit crimes? Sounds like it.

It’s time to approach the epidemic of violence and apathy in Wilmington with ideas like the HOPE Commission started by Charles Madden, and the Cease Violence program, launched by Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams. Madden’s organization mentors former criminal offers and helps them to become productive members of the community. Cease Violence dispatches trained teams to mediate potential disputes that might occur at crime scenes, hospitals, and other locations.

But, as Payne said, it’s not just about violence. He recounted a visit to a family’s home in the Riverside projects. “There was extreme poverty in this apartment,” he said. “We saw 15 children living in the home. These are third world living conditions — literally! And nobody cares about it. ‘Nobody’ meaning the powers that be.”

It’s time to feed the families and children in Wilmington’s low-income neighborhoods, not just nutritious food, but quality education, protection from violence, living-wage jobs, hope for the future, and a brighter day.

A luta continua.

100 Men Reading mentor reads to students in Wilmington, Del.
“Walk With Me”: Professor Yasser Payne’s Tedx presentation (2014)

The People’s Report: Wilmington, Delaware (Cappuccino Soul, May 2013)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thorough and provocative article. You should send it to the Mayor of Wilmington!

Alicia Benjamin said...

Thanks so much. I did!

Anonymous said...

I was truly inspired by Ms. Imani
Henry. No handicap there, the little lady is strong in faith.

LOVE YOU MUCH
MaDear

Alicia Benjamin said...

She sure is, and since her name means "faith" I guess it was her destiny. What about the people of Wilmington though? There's a great struggle and fight that needs to happen to set the people free. The PAR project seems to be moving in the right direction.