Wilmington, Delaware is one of the most violent cities, per capita, in the nation. In 2010 a group of researchers, recruited from the streets of the city, sought to find out why. The People's Report is an ethnographic community needs assessment of two of Wilmington's oldest and most violent neighborhoods: Eastside and Southbridge. The study organized fifteen community residents from these neighborhoods who have experience in the streets and/or criminal justice system as participatory action researchers (PAR), to empirically document the impact of community violence.
The PAR researchers, in cooperation with principal investigator Yasser Payne, Ph.D, worked with a coalition of community partners (The Wilmington Hope Commission, Christina Cultural Arts Center, Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, University of Delaware, Delaware State University, United Way of Delaware and Wilmington University) to interview over 500 community residents about community violence, and to compile a report from the data.
Findings strongly suggest that community violence in its many forms is deeply tied to profound notions of structural inequality. Residents report countless incidences of being exposed to physical violence such as knifings and shootings, but also to structural forms of violence like unemployment, poor schooling opportunities, and unhealthy living conditions. In peculiar contrast, the spirit of community residents remains positive. While community residents are overwhelmed with physical violence and blocked opportunity, the data strongly suggests the participants love themselves, love their communities, want to work, and want quality educational opportunities.
PAR project participants are spreading the word – through the People's Report, a documentary film about the study, upcoming academic publications, and formal presentations of their findings to community and civic leaders. The long-term goal of the project is to combat the root causes of poverty, which has a causal relationship with structural violence. PAR research gathered during the project will be used to inform future city programs and spur further opportunities for community engagement.