When Caesar Rodney completed his rain-soaked eighty-mile ride on July 2, 1776 to break the voting deadlock in Philadelphia, he would have certainly been honored to know that one day a giant statue of him on horseback would be erected in a downtown Wilmington park carrying his name (even if most of his ride was really in a carriage).
The rutted dirt roads Caesar Rodney may have once traveled are now Rodney Square and a DART transportation hub, with buses clogging traffic as they pick up and deposit passengers every few minutes.
Most of the passengers take the bus to work, but some are drawn to Rodney Square for different reasons. Sure, every once in a while a lone kitten strangler is arrested in the park, but as a Wilmington Police officer recently confided, there is something else happening under everyone’s nose in Rodney Square: heroin dealing.
Like so many drug corners in “bad” neighborhoods, I’m told the cops know all about it, and this is just one of the reasons the square has become a cordoned off patch of dried grass over the last decade. Gone are the picnicking workers from nearby office buildings whom I remember from my childhood. Most of the people these days gather near the two bus stops, while others sit catatonic on the benches, looking exhausted from difficult lives.
So I was shocked when my police source said I should sit and watch as “people take the bus in, score their drugs and jump back on the next bus.”
No way! Rodney Square?
“Can’t you do anything about it?” I asked.
“We do! We have cops all over the place.”
The police in Baltimore and Philadelphia fight out of control heroin battles too — expensive wars that never seem to affect the growing numbers of buyers and sellers who simply take the place of the ones who die or get locked up.
People in this country, and especially in Delaware, love their drugs and they will not be denied.
Unlike cocaine corners, where the same repeat customers buy throughout the day and into the night, typical heroin junkies usually score as much as they can in the morning, hopefully getting enough to last for the rest of the day. They just want to hole up with their drugs and be left alone.
A well known Philadelphia-area SEPTA train fondly nicknamed “The Polar Express” by Northeast Philadelphia addicts lets off a steady stream of white customers in Kensington’s Badlands every morning to score heroin, and DART buses and Rodney Square in Wilmington are the smaller-scale equivalent.
On a few recent summer mornings I hung out in this odd little park, and something is indeed being transacted. It’s a sordid collection of disabled and disturbed down-and-outers glued to the park benches, and some of them didn’t appreciate this blog-boy snooping around. After a few hours, one guy even walked right up to me and asked what I was doing. “Who, me?” I told him I was just fake-talking on the phone, but he didn’t even seem to really listen and just plopped back down on the bench.
I wasn’t the only person keeping tabs on the park population, as cops on bikes whizzed out of nowhere to suddenly question these plentiful bench loungers, asking one woman to empty her purse (nothing).
At first, the business at hand wasn’t really apparent. Then I observed two different groups of people get off a bus, sit down next to a shifty looking guy and seemingly bum a cigarette, then get up and walk away, at which point a kid on a bike would pedal up to “shake” hands.
I observed two of these city visitors as they got off a bus, bummed a cigarette off the bench-guy, met the teenage bike-kid and then walk to a bus stop on the other side of the square. They looked around a few times, like maybe they were followed, and then excitedly peered down at something that one of them pulled out of his pocket, their bodies huddled close together making it impossible to see. Then a bus pulled up and off they went.
I guess it’s good that I’m not a cop because this is the kind of circumstantial evidence that the 4th Amendment (thanks, Founding Fathers!) protects us from, but short of an illegal search and seizure, who knows what these guys were really up to? But it isn’t like heroin dealers haven’t been caught in the park before. Two guys claiming to be from Occupy Delaware and just innocently selling loose cigarettes in the park were busted with 16 bags of heroin back in April, and just a week before that a vicious knife fight broke out at one of the Rodney Square’s bus stops, less than 20 yards from the Hotel DuPont.
When Caesar Rodney joined 55 other signers of The Declaration of Independence, could he have ever imagined his name would be mixed up in such a mess?
Author’s note: At personal risk and for the greater good of exposing dangerous criminal activity in the heart of our community, I took several pictures of what I believed to be drug deals going down in Rodney Square. However, even after obscuring the identity of those photographed, we have been advised by legal counsel not to run these photos.