Why gun violence in Wilmington isn’t being solved by politics

The difficulties of most inner-city communities are not political problems, but rather social problems augmented by economic conditions. 

The ultimate responsibility for solving the social problems in inner-city neighborhoods rests with the people in those communities. Nevertheless, these communities need the aid and collaborative assistance of outsiders. 
However, political leaders and other well-meaning individuals and groups can sometimes aggravate the problems of the inner city rather than solve them.

The primary responsibility of the political system is to aid and assist these communities as they take steps toward social and economic development and capacity building.

Theodore J. Davis Jr. is a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.  Published 11:53 a.m. ET Aug. 22, 2019 by the Delaware News Journal.

In 1985 there were only eight homicides in Wilmington, according to the FBI. Between 2010 and 2017, Wilmington averaged 25 homicides a year.

Nearly all the murders in the city and state happened in three zip codes. 

Delaware’s political decision-makers are not alone in their frustrations with crime and violence in inner-city communities. It is a problem for many state and local governments throughout the nation.  

Governmental initiatives to address gun violence and homicides expose a political system that is frustrated and imploding over its inability to police and legislate away these problems in parts of the city. The problem is that most of the proposed solutions to crime and violence focus exclusively on behavioral rather than structural factors.

Delaware leaders need to rethink how they are addressing crime and violence in inner-city areas. For starters, they should understand that these problems are consequences of larger economic and social problems.

The difficulties of most inner-city communities are not political problems, but rather social problems augmented by economic conditions. 

More big ideas from Dr. Davis:

Young people are changing black politics in Delaware

Race matters in Delaware schools. Until we acknowledge that, education reform won’t work.

The ultimate responsibility for solving the social problems in inner-city neighborhoods rests with the people in those communities. Nevertheless, these communities need the aid and collaborative assistance of outsiders. 

However, political leaders and other well-meaning individuals and groups can sometimes aggravate the problems of the inner city rather than solve them.

The primary responsibility of the political system is to aid and assist these communities as they take steps toward social and economic development and capacity building.

Police respond to a report of shots fired on North Rodney Street in Wilmington

Police respond to a report of shots fired on North Rodney Street in Wilmington (Photo: John J. Jankowski Jr./Special to the News Journal)

There are several reasons why political decision-makers have not been able to effectively deal with problems of crime and violence in the inner city in general.

First, inner-city communities are very complex social environments. The social complexity of the inner city leads to high levels of anxiety, uncertainty, and distrust among its residents. 

Unlike most places, inner-city neighborhoods are geographical areas where two very distinct populations share a common space. 

One population includes very hard-working, good-intentioned, law-abiding, and taxpaying citizens trying to survive the economic challenges of life. They are the majority and often ignored.

The other population is the “street life people,” and crime and violence are often associated with segments of their subculture. To make it clear, not all “street life people” are criminals and violent. 

To most outsiders, these two populations occupying inner-city space are one and the same.

The second reason why it has been difficult to address crime and violence in the inner city is politics.

There are many well-intentioned individuals and institutions committed to improving the quality of life in inner-city communities. However, politics tends to get in the way.

When politics gets in the way, there is a lack of cooperation and a disorganization that leads to ineffective and reactive policy solutions.

Third, inner city communities are faced with institutional and leadership challenges. Too often, weak institutions and infighting among the community and political leadership stymies the community capacity building and development progress.

Finally, inner-city residents depend too heavily on outsiders (especially those within the political system) to solve their community’s problems. As a result, when the directives and attempts by outsiders fail, inner city residents are left with feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Recently Delaware introduced a “new strategy” to fight crime and violence in Wilmington. This “new strategy” looks like a variation of the ole’ “carrot and the stick” approach of the 1980s.

In Delaware’s politics, behavioralism is the guiding approach to solving the crime and violence problems in the inner city. The belief appears to be, if you change the behavior you can change the economic and social outcomes of the community. 

Wilmington’s government even went as far as calling on the Center for Disease Control to examine the problem of crime and violence as if the problem is pathological (i.e., a mental disease).

At some point, the state’s political decision-makers should also consider examining Wilmington’s inner-city crime and violence problem as structural. 

A structural approach would seek to strengthen the community institutions and families, and consider the impact of factors such as cultural and institutional racism on these communities.

Similarly, and equally important, is the need for the political system to have an urban development policy that is economically and socially inclusive.

In closing, the social complexity of the inner city requires multifaceted solutions that result in educating, empowering economically, and protecting the citizens of the community. 

Too often, the political decision-makers settle for routine and repackaged solutions to solve complex social problems, and the problems get worse for the community.

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