Notice the protesters ? Here's why they've been outside Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki's house for days
The glare of headlights from four Wilmington police patrol cars lit up the wooded block. The wail of a siren reverberated through the still, frigid November air.
It wasn't a crime scene, and it wasn't in a part of the city that usually sees a lot of noise or commotion.
That was the point, Keandra McDole said.
She let the siren noise, blaring out of her bullhorn, play for what felt like several minutes.
For the 11th night in a row, McDole was standing outside Mayor Mike Purzycki's home in the stately Highlands neighborhood, demanding a meeting to address the city's rising gun violence.
"Do you know how it feels to have to hold a gunshot victim in your arms?" she said into the bullhorn. "Our family members are dying out here."
There were a few lights on inside the home, but no movement.
McDole's crowd has swelled to two dozen on previous nights. Her companions have set up a tent on rainy nights. But on Wednesday, just one other protester, Newark resident Kristina Kelly, stood with McDole in the clear 35-degree evening.
Neither is a stranger to protests or to showing up outside local officials' homes.
McDole was buoyed by large protests this summer over police brutality to renew attention on the case of her brother, Jeremy McDole, a wheelchair user who was killed by Wilmington police in 2015. The Delaware Department of Justice initially cleared the officers involved in the shooting of wrongdoing and reaffirmed that decision again this year. McDole has held a series of protests all year for criminal justice reform, including outside the homes of Gov. John Carney and Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, both also in Wilmington.
Now, the Hilltop resident said she's at Purzycki's house because "he is the higher authority, he's the highest person to go to" for protesters' demands on gun violence.
Among those are a commitment to working security cameras in city neighborhoods, more inclusion of community groups in city officials' discussion of crime, and a lower financial barrier for city residents to take ownership of dilapidated properties from the Land Bank to use as community service centers.
McDole and Kelly said they've circulated that list. The last few nights, though, they've mostly been demanding a face-to-face conversation to even discuss the requests at all.
"We never thought we would still be out here 11 days," McDole said.
A representative from Purzycki's office said Thursday morning they had not received the list of demands.
But in a written statement Thursday, the mayor called the protests "disrespectful and rude." He pointed to his support of racial justice reforms as proof that he cares about the city and its people.
Purzycki highlighted the publication of the entire police policy manual – what he called a first in city history – and the recently approved body camera plan for Wilmington officers as a testament to his willingness to work with the community and continually be transparent.
"I am not going to be bullied into meeting with anyone and I am certainly not going to agree to meet with someone who intentionally disturbs an entire neighborhood in an attempt to irritate me," Purzycki said in the statement. "As Mayor, I will handle what comes my way, but there is no need to disturb other children and families with noise and profanity."
Between protests for racial equality and a mayoral primary in which two opponents accused Purzycki of neglecting low-income neighborhoods, this year has seen additional focus on a long-simmering complaint from some residents that there's "a tale of two cities" in Wilmington.
The complaint hasn't gone away. The most visible sign of inequity, critics say, is the violence. As of Sunday, 159 people have been shot this year in the city, which has experienced the second-highest number of shootings since Delaware Online/The News Journal began keeping track of the city's gun violence in 2011.
Only 2017, which had a record 197 shootings, was bloodier.
City Council members, too, have expressed frustration about the year's violence.
"We never hear the outcomes" of violence intervention programs, complained Councilwoman Zanthia Oliver at a public safety committee meeting this month.
Former Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings, now employed by the state's social services department, is running a program launched with police Chief Robert Tracy last year, to offer help and "a way out" to those involved in shootings, with the threat of prosecution if the violence continues.
He told council members the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted some of the Group Violence Intervention program's scheduled meetings, and he's still getting his office fully staffed.
He's now working with more than 40 adults and minors whom police believe are linked to the violence.
On Wednesday night, McDole said she wants Purzycki to personally address the issue and to walk the neighborhoods hardest hit by shootings. She said until he agreed, she was prepared to continue coming out, or visit the homes of his top deputies.
Around the corner, neighbors out walking their dogs were overheard asking each other whether the cold night had deterred the protesters from arriving. Outside Purzycki's house, a man and a teenager, leaving their house on the way to a game, greeted McDole and Kelly.
"You guys are dedicated," the man said, chuckling.
"We care about our lives," McDole told a reporter. "In our neighborhoods, we're ducking bullets. The only thing the mayor is ducking is leaves from a tree."
Contact Jeanne Kuang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2476.