[caption id="attachment_225679" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Wilmington is still grappling with how to contend with a decades-long issue of gun violence in the city, which recently claimed the life of a banking executive. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
In many ways, a single day in August exemplified the promise and challenge that confronts Wilmington today.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="150"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
On Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, some of the world’s best golfers left the Hotel DuPont early in the morning to arrive at the Wilmington Country Club for the first practice day of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship. Walking the manicured fairways and greens of the historic golf course, once home to du Ponts, they kicked off a weeklong celebration of Delaware and its host city for an international TV audience and more than 110,000 visitors to the First State.The buzz in the region leading up to and through the tournament was palpable, as tired legs and sunburnt faces became a frequent sight in Wilmington’s downtown. From an impromptu visit by golf legend Tiger Woods to the thrilling finish of play by tournament winner Patrick Cantlay, the BMW Championship showed the world the type of hosts that Delaware can be.Yet less than 12 hours after players teed off for the first practice rounds, the other side of Wilmington’s story emerged.Carrie Mondell, a senior vice president at WSFS Bank, was on her commute home from work when she was struck by a stray bullet in a shooting just a few blocks from the bank’s downtown headquarters. Less than three days later, she would succumb to her wounds, leaving behind a 6-year-old son.News of the shooting and Mondell’s death reverberated through the community as much as the nearby golf tournament, if not more. For the thousands of downtown Wilmington workers who commute through the same corridors, it was a difficult reminder that the city still has work to do.I found it difficult to comprehend in many ways. We recently moved our offices to the neighboring Brandywine Building, and I have frequently taken Washington Street down to 2nd Street for the temporary southbound I-95 entrance as Mondell likely was doing. In all those trips, I can’t ever recall feeling unsafe, although the signs of economic neglect are hard to miss.I left the office at roughly the same time as Mondell did on Aug. 16, but for whatever reason chose to take King Street to South Market Street and onto I-495 instead that day. Who knows how fate played a part in the circumstances that precipitated on that block, but it was a jarring realization.And in a stomach-churning bit of coincidence, the shooting occurred just hours after a roundtable of legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and activists convened to discuss gun violence and reform efforts in Delaware. Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and the city’s police chief, Robert Tracy, were among those at that discussion, along with Attorney General Kathy Jennings, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.For much of the 21st century, Wilmington has struggled to shed an image of gun violence and crime. It infamously was named “Murdertown USA” in a 2014 Newsweek piece that highlighted the struggles typically found in large metropolitan cities that have taken root here.This year, shootings and gun-related deaths have declined in Wilmington by 40% and 50% year over year, respectively, according to News Journal statistics. The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 actually saw an uptick in gun violence compared to the two years preceding them though, including a record number of killings last year.“After a year of the lowest amount of violent crime in recent memory, this latest shooting incident is another painful reminder of how much work lies before us to reduce the gun violence that has gripped our nation,” the mayor said.The city is investigating a Newark, N.J., program that places safety ambassadors and interventionists in crime hotspots and near schools to keep children out of harm’s way, similar to how Downtown Visions has rehabilitated Wilmington’s Market Street corridor. Other gun violence prevention programs around the country invest in hospital-based violence intervention programs or redevelopment of neglected and vacant lots that often precipitate violence, according to Johns Hopkin University. None of the efforts are a panacea, but holistic efforts, with concentrated, continuous funding, can make a difference as other cities have found.“Delaware workers should expect to get home safely, and to live in our city safely. We must redouble our efforts to assure this promise,” Gov. John Carney told me about Mondell’s death.The killing of a top banking executive in a brazen, daytime shooting assuredly will bring more scrutiny to the city’s efforts to reduce gun violence, but it’s a conversation we probably should have been having more often. The 11 other deaths and more than 70 others injured this year are in areas that have historically been economically depressed, such as West Center City, Hilltop, Browntown and Price’s Run, and their lives are no less valuable than any other.As I think about this latest tragedy, I’m often reminded of the young girl I saw every week this summer selling snow cones from her front porch on Washington Street. The city’s next generation, like that girl, deserve a place where they too can grow up feeling safe.