“The People’s Report” documentary addresses Wilmington’s violence
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
In the documentary film “The People’s Report,” a young man sits outside his Wilmington community, pondering what can be done to change the pattern of violence there. After a brief silence he faced the camera and said, “There is no hope.” The film later revealed the same young man was shot and killed a short time later.
The Black American Studies department screened the documentary “The People’s Report” to a packed audience Thursday night at the Trabant University Center. Yasser Payne, professor of Black American Studies and the architect of the Wilmington Street Participatory Action Research Project and its accompanying documentary, said he believes significant changes need to be made to the community structure in Wilmington. These changes could include improved public schools, increased employment opportunities and lowered restrictions for hiring convicted felons at corporations.
“Our results strongly suggest that improved structural opportunity will predict or produce safer communities,” Payne said. “A plan that does not include structural opportunity will more than likely result in continued violence in Wilmington, Delaware.”
The Wilmington Street PAR project is a taskforce that has community members assess issues of violence, socioeconomic inequalities, substance abuse and unemployment through field observation and interviews.
“The People’s Report” follows the efforts of the team as they collect and analyze data dealing with the significant amount of physical violence in Wilmington, Payne said.
A study of this magnitude has never been conducted in the state before, he said.
The innovation of the Wilmington Street PAR team is its method of data collection, to which Payne attributes the program’s success. The project built a team comprised entirely of Wilmington residents from the observed communities rather than bringing in outsiders to collect the data, he said. The approach allowed unprecedented access to areas of the community formerly untouched by prior academic studies, Payne said.
Payne said the documentary presents the audience with jarring statistics about physical violence, as well as social and economic inequalities prevalent in many Wilmington communities. The study’s findings showed that more than 50 percent of surveyed participants reported losing a relative to gun violence. He said the film explored several reasons behind the violence, such as oppressive environments containing abandoned buildings, lack of employment opportunities and failing public school systems, which left more than 40 percent of surveyed Wilmington adults without high school diplomas.
Sophomore criminal justice major Nafissatou Dicko said the speech left her feeling inspired. She said she feels more motivated to begin a search for solutions to the harsh reality portrayed in the film.
“We all know there is a problem,” Dicko said. “I think that we really need to talk more about the solutions now.”
The program currently provides valuable resources to the people who need them most and creates an infrastructure for facilitating systematic change in Wilmington’s most affected areas, Payne said. The creation of new jobs and opportunities for those crippled by blatant social and economic inequality is the most important thing to consider now, he said.
Wilmington City Council member Hanifa Shabazz said she was excited for the film and the benefits of the project in Wilmington. She said she hopes the plan will continue to benefit the city in the future.
“I am excited that you too will see a reality that I’m confident will open our eyes and hearts to the urgency for the need of action,” Shabazz said.
This action will require putting aside differences, accepting the burden of the city’s problems, gaining knowledge of cultures and realizing that youth and disenfranchised adults have a voice that to be heard and respected, she said.
The film was followed by an open forum panel, where students and guests were given the opportunity to engage in a question and answer discussion with panelists. The ceremony hostess, Chanelle Caple, invited the audience to share thoughts on the film, comment about the issues in Wilmington and ask the panelists about their experiences with the PAR project.
The panel consisted of PAR members Patrice Gibbs, Jonathon Wilson and Cory Wright, Executive Director of the Wilmington HOPE Commission Charles Madden and senior Brooklynn Hitchens.
Madden said he has been personally involved with working on the PAR Project. He said he hopes to provide the members of the affected communities with the chance to achieve their full potential.
As much as the project is about violence, it is also about experiences, Madden said.
“It’s about giving these young men and women the opportunity to showcase their skills in ways they would otherwise not be able to do so,” Madden said.
Payne said that the PAR Project is far from over and more findings from the study’s data are expected. He said he hopes the data will alert other institutions and inspire them to offer support in continuing research on violence in American cities similar to Wilmington.
Sophomore human services major and Baltimore native Akilah Alleyne said she felt especially impacted by the film due to her own city’s reputation for crime and violence. She said she was proud to see the university taking steps to get involved in addressing difficult and controversial issues.
“It was overwhelmingly emotional for me,” Alleyne said. “The film showed me that I obviously need to take action whether or not it’s my community.”