Mayor of Two Cities
Jim Baker wants everyone in Wilmington to believe in its—in their—greatness. There’s just one small problem remaining to be solved…
(page 6 of 10)
“I believe the lower-income areas of this city are tired of no one listening to them,” says Joanne Burke, a past president of the Cool Springs-Tilton Neighborhood Association and Historical District. “Who’s going to listen? If you give them something to rally around, they would. But the lower-income people of this city feel powerless. People in positions of authority aren’t listening to the disenfranchised.”
Says Baker, “A lot of residents don’t see the changes going on. We have to make people feel connected. They see downtown changing, but not their own neighborhoods. We’ve got to make these new corporations who move to Wilmington know that they are part of this neighborhood.”
In some of those neighborhoods, a monster haunts Baker’s current term: violent crime. On November 23, readers of The News Journal saw the front-page headline “2008 is Wilmington’s bloodiest year”—121 shootings and 23 murders—and photographs of police tape and body bags.
In the final hours of 2008, Anthony Meek, a 35-year-old Wilmington resident, was found at about 11:45 p.m. on the 2300 block of Jefferson Street, the victim of a shooting. Meek became the 26th homicide in Wilmington last year. It is a record.
As Baker gazed through his window, the murder rate was still 25. During a meeting a few minutes later, he chastised staff for talking about violence in terms of the number of homicides. Yet in private conversation, the issue of gun violence invaded nearly every topic he raised. The single most important task of his third term, he says, will be to understand this presence and change it.
Baker talks about 12-year-olds waving Glocks on streets where corner boys peddle heroin. He speaks about the disintegration of the African-American family in the communities where most of the gun crimes have occurred. He points out that Wilmington’s high school dropout rate is nearly 60 percent, that 40 percent of African-American children have never been to church, that 70 percent of African-American children are born to single mothers.
“We have the police working on part of the problem,” he says, “but the institutions need to change, and by that I mean the family structure, the church, the educational system and the criminal justice system.
“Just saying that all we need to do is re-deploy more police on the streets is silly. Our goal is to eventually end this murderous madness, this world that says it’s perfectly fine to end someone’s life because they looked at you the wrong way or disrespected your friends. We have to change the mindset of the people, and that’s hard, but if you don’t look at the real problem, at the real data, you will lose, lose, lose.”
Page 7: Mayor of Two Cities, continues...