Only seven square miles.
In 2000, it was 92 percent white.
|92 percent white in 2000; 79.2 percent white today|
Today, it's 79.2 percent white.
It's black population has doubled, from five percent to 10 percent.
And with this population, so comes the undertow. The Black Undertow [A DEADLY CITY:
As W-B's homicide rate spirals, city struggles to find solutions, Times-Leader, 10-19-13]:
WILKES-BARRE — You are more likely to die by homicide in Wilkes-Barre than in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Chicago.
There were 11 slayings in this city of 41,000 people this year through Friday, ranging from a bruised and battered 2-month-old boy to a 46-year-old woman allegedly shot to death by her estranged husband.
That makes the city's homicide rate so far this year eight times larger than New York's — even though the nation's largest city has 200 times more people than Wilkes-Barre — and double that of Philadelphia, which has a population 37 times larger. Young adults of color are most likely to be slain.
Nine out of the 11 victims were black males, the average age of all victims is 27, and all but one died of gunshot wounds. What's driving this rash of homicides and when will it end?
There don't seem to be any simple answers. Crime experts interviewed for this story said:
• Drugs are involved in a majority of the killings.
• The city has bolstered its anti-crime unit to focus on vice and narcotics offenses.
• Analysis of crime patterns can be a valuable tool for understanding and preventing violence. “Somehow, we need to break this cycle of violence in our community,” said Ron Felton, leader of the Wilkes-Barre branch of the NAACP, adding that the city's black residents have a role to play in reporting crimes that are decimating husbands, sons and brothers. “We need to work with law enforcement where we can. We need to not be silent,” Felton said.
With 210,000 people, Rochester, N.Y., is about five times larger than Wilkes-Barre, but both are aging industrial cities with homicide rates well into the double digits: Rochester's 31 killings this year translate into a rate of 14.7 per 100,000 people, while Wilkes-Barre's rate is nearly twice that at 26.7 per 100,000 people.
Charlotte Raup, coordinator of Wilkes-Barre's Crime Watch organization, wasn't surprised to learn the local homicide rate is outpacing larger cities, only dismayed.
“Oh my God, we're only seven square miles,” Raup said of the statistic during a Thursday evening interview, squeezed in between her fifth community meeting of the week and going out on patrol for the night. Among the problems Raup sees is a fall in the number of city police officers.
In an Oct. 8 ceremony at which six officers were promoted, the mayor, with Dessoye at his side, said the department now is at 75 officers, down from a one-time high of 91. The mayor's $42.7 million 2014 budget, unveiled three days later, calls for hiring at least 10 police officers, at a cost of $1 million.
'Subculture of violence' Dessoye himself cautions that more feet on the beat won't necessarily change what he sees as larger societal issues. “I can stop street crime by putting more cops on the street but in this subculture of violence of how these people congregate, that is not necessarily going to help them. We have to get that element out of here.” Dessoye believes that a growing drug culture persists in good economic times and bad, fed by outsiders coming into the area.
“We arrest so many people that they do not have a Wilkes-Barre address. A lot of our crime is coming from those bigger cities,” the chief said. “We have an element in our society right now that reflects the trends of violent crime; you see this in Philadelphia and other bigger cities. It's sad that the element of society that has come to settle here have somewhat trivial differences resulting in the use of firearms,” he said.
“Do they realize that when you shoot that gun, there is a strong possibility that you could be taking someone's life?”
Gino Middleton nodded gravely when talking with a reporter on South Main Street about violence in the city. “I see it in the newspapers every day. It's sad, all this black-on-black crime,” said Middleton, 54, who is black.
“I don't know what it is, that we as a people don't have the respect we should for human life.” Middleton also embodies a paradox: he moved to Wilkes-Barre from New York's Harlem neighborhood about five months ago, partly to escape escalating violence.
“There, you see a murder in the paper every day. Every day,” Middleton said. “I came here because I thought it was safer.” Middleton, who said he works in construction, acknowledges poverty can be a motivating factor behind violent crime, saying better job opportunities would probably help create a less violent climate. But lack of jobs is no excuse, he added.
“Look, the person who says, 'I can't find any jobs,' they're not looking hard enough,” Middleton said. “Stay focused, stay in school, get an education, and find a job.” .
Leighton sees economic circumstances as a key factor, not race. “Violent criminals are not limited to any specific race or ethnic group. What we continue to see is that segments of the population on the lower end of the economic scale are disproportionately affected by crime and we have continued to foster efforts to spur job creation and create housing opportunities for social and economic mobility,” the mayor said.
But the deaths and injuries among members of the city's black community are all too real for Felton. “It bothers me a great deal,” Felton said, adding that he, too, regularly reads reports about violence that seems largely fueled by drug crime.
“We've got to run those elements that are violent in nature, or dealing drugs, out,” Felton said, adding that the NAACP is more than happy to work with law enforcement, “as long as there is no racial-profiling involved.” “We need to get back to a place in time where our kids are not in fear of getting shot,” Felton said.One small town.
An ultimatum from the NAACP that no 'racial profiling' be involved, when virtually all homicide is courtesy of the community they are sworn to protect, uplift, and advance?
Sounds a like a fair trade.
As long as black people are around, you will never find a place in time where 'our' kids are not in fear of getting shot. [Suspect, ACLU claim racial profiling, Citizens Voice, 7-25-13]:
Phillip Maurice Harvey is black. That's all Wilkes-Barre police needed to know, he says.
Harvey, a convicted drug dealer who spent nearly 20 of his 37 years in prison, acknowledges a troubled past but says he's paid his debt.
And, Harvey says, he didn't do anything to prompt officers to stop him around 3 p.m. Tuesday - other than being black on Academy Street.
"This was crazy. I don't even know what I did to deserve this," Harvey, of 40 Irving St., said in an interview Wednesday at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. "You shouldn't just roll over on me because I'm black. That's how it looks."
Harvey is certainly not the first criminal defendant to claim racial profiling. But a police affidavit filed in court - charging the convicted felon with possessing heroin and a loaded pistol - backs up his account, indicating no grounds to stop Harvey other than he was black and walking in what police characterized as a "high drug and crime area."
Civil rights activists questioned the circumstances of his arrest.
"A black man walking down the street in a high drug area or a high crime area is not any kind of indication of reasonable suspicion," Mary Catherine Roper, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday.
"Stopping people as a prophylactic measure is not justified under the Fourth Amendment. We don't live in a country where any officer can stop you at any time and demand to know your business."
Chief: Proactive policing, not racial profiling
Reached outside police headquarters Wednesday evening, Wilkes-Barre police Chief Gerard Dessoye appeared defensive and, in a terse exchange, said crime is up and that there have been seven homicides in Wilkes-Barre so far this year.
"Guys are out there risking their lives," Dessoye said, noting officers found Harvey with a gun and drugs.Racial profiling will save your life; it will save the life of your city too.
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Just another city destined to be overwhelmed by the 'Sons of Obama'.