Examining Dr. Yasser Payne’s “The People’s Report” and Crime

PLUS: Delaware Today’s inaugural Fashion Awards makes its debut.

Google searches using the keywords “crime” and “Wilmington, DE” are all about the headlines: Wilmington ranked sixth in the nation in violent crime in 2011; Stray bullet lands in the leg of a 5-year-old girl in the Hilltop neighborhood; Parenting Magazine calls Wilmington America’s most dangerous city.

Read enough of these stories and we end up hiding in suburban basements. Sure, in July, Wilmington officials proclaimed that overall crime had dropped by 24 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the year prior. That’s great, except that shootings have actually increased by 22 percent this year.

Here’s what you rarely hear: meaningful dialogue born of true analysis and astute understanding of the motivations behind criminal behavior. There are committees, workshops, plays, outreach programs—all these meetings and discussions created by people who share unfeigned desires to help, but who live in bubbles, and have no experience surviving the day to day realities of the inner circle.

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So when I saw a groundbreaking documentary at the Wilmington Film Festival, I knew, finally, that Wilmington was braced for change. Senior writer Mark Nardone introduces us to Yasser Payne, Ph.D., a social psychologist whose participatory research formed the premise for “The People’s Report,” a superb documentary produced by Teleduction of Wilmington. The film chronicles Dr. Payne’s Wilmington Street PAR Project, a two-year effort in which he trained 15 people from Southbridge and Wilmington’s East Side. The trainees, as Mark writes, were “men and women associated with street life, including some felons, to survey others about their lives and neighborhoods, then analyze the results in a truly scientific way.”

Prescient stories like this can only be written when a writer and his subject form a union based on trust and respect. This is an honest account of a man who survived a difficult past, has realistic and unromantic notions about his present, and who appears to have higher yet still pragmatic hopes for his future—and the future of Wilmington. If given the attention he deserves, Payne can inspire change because he understands the motivations behind crime. He survived the streets.

I’m proud that Delaware Today is the first print publication to tell Dr. Payne’s story in such a substantive way. But I suspect the rest of the nation will know of him soon.

On another note, feast your eyes on the first Delaware Today Fashion Awards feature. We reveal only the nominees. Our esteemed judges have chosen and will announce the winners at our grand event at Deerfield on Sept. 25. I thank the following judges for pouring over the nomination forms and offering expert advice: Joan Bernard, owner of Barbizon Modeling & Talent Agencies in Wilmington and Philadelphia; Colleen Moretz and Kelly Cobb, of the Fashion and Apparel Studies department at the University of Delaware; and Dallas Shaw, a renowned fashion illustrator and style expert who also graces our cover. (Thanks also to Shaw’s staff for enduring the many details involved in coordinating that effort.) We are grateful to all of you.

If you’re interested in coming to the public fashion event—which promises to be fabulous—visit delawaretoday.com/fashionawards.

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