With violent crime on the minds of many Wilmington residents, the News Journal and WHYY hosted a Public Safety Debate at The Grand Opera House on Thursday, May 26th. Seven of the Eight Democratic Mayoral hopefuls duked it out in front of an announced sold-out room (which didn’t look to be nearly half-full). The original debate was supposed to be held at the end of April at Howard High School, but a girl was beaten to death in the school’s bathroom earlier that same day. Crime problem?
Mayor Williams decided to sit this debate out again, and who can blame him? Anything short of an early death would have probably sounded like better options then sitting under hot TV lights and talking about the city’s crime problem For an ex-cop who ran on a law and order platform, these last four years have been a public safety mess. Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia’s ex-police commissioner turned Wilmington Police consultant, was nowhere to be seen either, and his $16,000 a month gig will be up by the middle of the summer.
While the first debate in March was a civil affair with orderly straightforward questions from the panel, May’s raucous debate saw the nominees interrupting and talking over each other as the night went on. My takeaways of the evening: Theo Gregory and Kevin Kelly will split whatever establishment vote there is; and Mike Purzycki and Eugene Young will fight for the disenfranchised voters looking for some kind of new direction. Young got many of the biggest cheers of the night, while Purzycki continues to have trouble impressing the African-American community. Earlier this year Purzycki alienated a Black Lives Matter town hall meeting when he said ‘you people’ as he referenced the crime problems that some of the neighborhoods, like Hilltop have.
The mother and sister of Jeremy McDole, sat passively for much of the debate, cheering loudest for Eugene Young, but not causing a rumored disruption – perhaps the family at the center of this year’s biggest crime story was the real reason there were so many plain clothes and out of uniform officers at The Grand. The News Journal, seemingly disappointed, asked McDole’s mother and daughter afterwards why there wasn’t a demonstration, and the reporter was told that nothing was ever planned and the family hadn’t even heard the rumor, and they were just attending to figure out who to vote for.
Also in the audience was Keith James, who was assaulted by Wilmington’s S.W.A.T. when the police blocked off Rodney Square and a tense stand-off occurred during a May 20th McDole march. James is a 21-year-old African-American business owner who sits on several boards, including Wilmington’s Police Citizen Advisory Board. He has recently filed a complaint against the force.
Can the stigma of “Murdertown USA” ever be washed away? And what can be done to fix broken communities that are hurting and struggling with generational poverty, drugs, and violence?
Short of a riot, what would it take to get the kind of attention and money needed to really affect change in these neighborhoods? Europe had to self-destruct before there was ever a Marshall Plan to try to fix things. The sad truth is that it will probably take more than a Bernie Sanders-like revolution to make a dent. Whoever the new mayor is, good luck with public safety! The Sisyphean hill that needs to be climbed is steep and coated with grease, and the racial divide and mistrust of the police is at an all-time high.