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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Wild, Wild Wilmington

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Andrew Flaherty
Andrew Flaherty
Wilmington native. University of Delaware graduate. Media and Pop Culture junkie. Exploring the unusual and offbeat in the area.

A well-placed source tells me the Eden Park shootings are the result of a long-standing feud between different groups in Wilmington’s Caribbean-American community, which makes you wonder what a new mayor, or any extra police deployment could do to stop all the gunfire we’ve seen in the city this year. How do you police cultural animosity anyway? African-American communities are at odds from within throughout the country and Wilmington is no different. The reasons are long and complicated.

Otis Phillips felt disrespected 4 years ago when he couldn’t bully his way into Jamaican-American Herman Curry’s island-themed birthday party at an unlicensed East Side nightclub, and so he ended up shooting a friend of Curry’s to death. Curry was set to be a prosecution witness (and unlike most, he supposedly couldn’t wait to testify), but Phillips disappeared for 4 years, until he “re-emerged” at Eden Park to kill Curry in broad daylight before an assembled audience at the Marcus Garvey soccer game.

My source said that a recent shooting between the two communities had everyone on edge, which is why the crowd at the game that afternoon was so heavily armed (or so he claims). It seems that Phillips might not have been as underground as the police are claiming and decided to execute Curry as part of a larger message to the tightly knit-Caribbean-American community of Wilmington.

Meanwhile the police are saying that Phillips must have been hiding in another state and that Phillips probably didn’t know how to get back at Curry except for his well-publicized soccer game. My insider gave me a funny look when I asked him why Phillips would risk coming back to Delaware. “What do you mean back? The police don’t know nothing.”  He also said, with weary resignation, that this thing isn’t over yet.

My source was actually in the stands when the bullets were flying, and it sounds like Phillips and his teenage accomplice weren’t expecting the spectators to open up like it was a firing line, and it also doesn’t sound like the Wilmington police are charging any of the more than 300 people in the crowd that fired back from the wild, wild west audience that afternoon.

Phillips was somehow never hit by any of the bullets, but was bitten by a police dog during the ensuing gun battle and chase and is now facing two murder charges because of a birthday party where no one wanted him.

The problem of finding individuals who will testify, however, is significant. For example, a block party in North Philadelphia last week left a 2 year-old girl shot in the stomach, and there were more than 200 witnesses, and of course, nobody saw anything. The stop snitching pathology runs deep.

What if the two guys that opened fire at Eden Park got away?

Would any of the Eden Park witnesses decide to start snitching about the murder of a murder witness? Seems like a hard sell.

It’s a dangerous world on Wilmington’s streets these days. This latest shooting will be hard to top for its audaciousness. For the 16th year in a row Curry prepared to speak at the Marcus Garvey Soccer Tournament, which has featured amateur Jamaican teams from around the tri-state area for the last twenty years. It had become Curry’s baby, as well as something of a Carribean-American picnic, with many of the families swimming in Eden Park’s public pool. Sunday was the tailend of the heatwave and the temperature was in the low-90s.

Curry was the father of six and a respected figure in New Castle County for his work with handicapped children: Hopefully not too many of his family was on hand for the horror that occurred. Phillips waited until Curry had grabbed the microphone before he sauntered up, tapped him on the back, and opened fire point blank six times, at which point his accomplice engaged spectators in a running gun battle.

Caught in the crossfire was Alex Kamara (a varsity soccer player for A.I.) as he waited on the sidelines in his soccer uniform. The popular 16-year-old was also an all-conference wrestler and straight-A student.

I played soccer at A.I. too. What if this happened in Greenville? An election could be won or lost after a dramatic murder like this if it happened in the 19807ish.

But in Wilmington? Not so much.

Just before Curry and Camara woke up Sunday morning, the Wilmington police were investigating a pre-dawn homicide at 13th and French (shooting, natch). It turns out this victim was good friends with the teenage gunman that “helped” Phillips at Eden Park. These cycles of violence drag family members and friends into the madness, creating wounds that never seem to heal.

Sadly, this is just another blip in another urban neighborhood. There is such a resigned apathy in these affected communities. Apathy that is bred by a thousand lifetime cuts: family-structures in shambles; suffocating poverty; disease; drugs; violence; and lots and lots of guns… the cards are stacked against you, if you are from the worst East, North, West, or South Wilmington neighborhoods. Wilmington is actually one of the more violent cities to live in the United States. Some of the survivors of the Eden Park murders said they were ready to “go back to Kingston,” where they felt safe. Kingston!

Wilmington was always a tough city, but when I was a garbage man back in the late 1980s, disputes were still more likely to be resolved with fists. I heard this rap-song by Kool Moe Dee about a million times from a million different car windows and it always sounded threatening as I stood on the back of that foul-smelling trash truck as it criss-crossed Wilmington:

“Guns, we don’t like to use them
Unless, our enemies choose them
We prefer to fight you on like a man
And beat you down with our hands and bodyslam you at the…
The wild wild west”

Ahhh, the good old days when you were lucky enough to get body-slammed in the wild, wild west.

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