Mom Wouldn’t Remodel a House with a Leaky Roof: Advice for Camden, NJ

22 Nov
Camden, New Jersey

Camden, New Jersey (Photo credit: Dougtone)

By Dee Gordon Wilson

Walking to middle school one morning, my friends and I came across a woman lying on the sidewalk. We really didn’t know what to make of it. She was just shy of Mr. Gray’s – affectionately known as Pop Pop to the neighborhood kids – front steps. She was young, pretty, well dressed.

We thought she may have fainted. I can’t recall how we got the news that she had died there or where she was headed or that she had a twin sister who was going to be devastated. Perhaps from the adult chatter that spread through the streets like stories do today on the Internet. But I do remember this: We never considered that she had been shot there and left to die.

That was the Camden, N.J., of my youth. A far cry from the city being touted as the second most dangerous in the country. The city being chatted about in print and online for reaching and surpassing a murderous record set in 1995. I remember the record because I participated in the count. I had moved back home in 1992 to take a job at the local newspaper. It was excruciating to hear the screech of the police scanner, see heads turn and witness people pause. Watch reporters and editors hold their breath at the announcement of another death, quietly praying that it wasn’t someone you knew or loved. As a native of the city, it was particularly hard to hear a familiar surname or a recognizable intersection.

I returned to South Jersey recently, just shy of Hurricane Sandy’s arrival and the looming new record of deaths in my hometown. This sequel is different in that I’m not in the newsroom and many of the victims are young transplants and out-of-towners. But more significantly, it’s different because the hope that was apparent and present the first time appears to be absent this time around. And confidence that there is a brighter day is kaput.

Confidence in law enforcement. Kaput.

You are doomed if your citizens don’t think you have their back. You are doomed if your force doesn’t feel their bosses have their back. In a newly proposed Metro Police Department, current officers will lose their jobs. A small percentage of them will be eligible to apply to the new force. The others? Who knows. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the detriment of piss-poor morale. Officials are touting high rates of absenteeism and “fringe” benefits as problems with the current force. Let’s keep it simple: If you asked me to risk my life in a volatile environment until you take my job – a job made more difficult by reduced staff and criminals who know full well you can’t be everywhere – I’d call out sick, too.

Confidence in the officials. Kaput.

A plan has been set to fix the problem. But wait. Nobody really knows how it’s going to work, most of all, the people. Budgets are raw. Applications are piling up. The people who can help aren’t being asked and the people being asked aren’t helping. From all angles, it appears that the higher ups are patting the citizens on the head with “Don’t worry. We got you.”

Confidence in the ability to parent. Kaput.

While people pray to the higher being they so choose for young adults to find more value in their lives and the lives of their peers, few can muster up enough to give a damn. How can parents fight an industry that offers employment to teens, decent (and immediate) financial compensation, career development and speedy promotion? No, there are no health benefits and a pension is out of the question. But you get to carry your pride and respect to early retirement – all the way to one of the local cemeteries.

This ridiculous and avoidable tragedy reminds me another crime spree I witnessed.

I had the misfortune of having the D.C. Sniper story invade my personal and professional space. The culprits in this insanity killed 10 people and critically wounded three people over 23 days. The local law enforcement agency wasn’t disbanded. It was joined by regional forces and the FBI. The task forces and swat units and chiefs and minions came together and put a stop to the deaths. Ironically, if not for geographical preference, these two partners-in-crime could have been the Camden snipers, as their car was registered to a Whitman Park address. Had the pair kicked off their spree in the home of Campbell’s Soup instead of the suburbs of the nation’s capital, would a record of murders even be a discussion.

The turning point in the Washington case happened the day the child was shot. The visual of Chief Charles Moose, standing at the podium, weeping became the image no one forgot. The shooter had done the unthinkable, “Stepping over the line. Shooting a kid.”

The same outrage that brought hundreds more law enforcement to Montgomery County, Md., needs to return to Camden.

Few families have activists or cops or judges or governors. Every family at least started with a Mother. Somewhere in the city a mother is still mourning the child she lost in 1995. Many mothers are agonizing over their children walking to school or playing in the park or heading to work or racing to college or strapping on a holster for another day of fighting crime.

A mother would know that you don’t remodel the house if the roof is leaking.

Perhaps, the players in this mess should call home and ask Mom what she thinks about the second most dangerous city in the country and it’s new record of death.

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