Durham looks to Wilmington for potential solution to rise in gun crime

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, April 21, 2022
Durham looks to Wilmington for potential solution to rise in gun crime
Durham city leaders are looking far and wide for ways to curb violent crimes -- including in New Hanover County.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In Durham Mayor Elaine O'Neal's State of the City address Monday night, she said there's no single solution to the city's surge in gun violence and trauma that it's leaving behind. So, city leaders are looking far and wide for answers -- including in New Hanover County.

When O'Neal talked about what she saw in Wilmington, two weeks ago, she was gushing.

"It was a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful thing. Let me tell you; it was a beautiful thing to see," she said in describing the Harrelson Center in downtown Wilmington.

For decades, the building served as the New Hanover County Jail. It's now been transformed into a supercenter for community support services. More than 20 organizations and nonprofits are housed there, focused on everything from affordable housing to helping survivors of crime and the people who've committed them to move on for the better.

It's a model for what O'Neal hopes to bring to Durham.

"But we saw it in reality when we went to Wilmington. So these are not pipe dreams. These are things that people are doing," O'Neal said.

Tina Pearson, director of the New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force, told ABC11 that she could see solutions for Durham from what's happening in Wilmington. Pearson's organization is one of the nonprofits operating inside the Harrelson Center, and she's one of the voices who briefed O'Neal on the work being done there.

"I would say that (the programs) are working," Pearson said. "We actually see the evidence in our community."

She points to research showing that people turning to crime or drug abuse often have a history related to an adverse childhood experience or trauma. Pearson's group is about teaching and reinforcing resiliency to combat those factors and deliver better outcomes for the person's health and the health and safety of the community.

"Instead of saying to people, 'what's wrong with you?' It's what's happened to you, and how can we help you move forward," Pearson said. "I know that the work of resilience can work in other communities and can be a solution."

"Any support that the mayor can give to that initiative, it's only going to strengthen it and help it make an impact hopefully, even faster, and to a greater extent."

That was the pledge from O'Neal on Monday. She's created a task force to help develop an aligned system of community service groups, workforce development teams, and real people involved in the justice system-the task force is expected to report back to city hall in the coming weeks.