In 2012, Camden set a new record for murders in a single year. It was last broken in 1995, and since then over 700 people have been murdered here in Camden. The violence this past year compelled the creation of the community group, S.T.O.P. (Stop Trauma on People), which planted crosses in front of City Hall and along the Ben Franklin Bridge. We focused on how "normalized" violence has become in Camden, memorialized those who lost their lives to that violence, and sparked a controversy. The news cameras came and people paid attention, but then the crosses were taken down as we reached the end of the year. The truth is that a new year doesn't mean a clean slate when it comes to trauma.
From the onset, the S.T.O.P. group focused on Camden's endemic poverty -- in 2012, it was named the "Poorest City in America." We know that violence flows from the extraordinary destitution here, where 43 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. It causes significant safety issues in the lives of people and creates chronic stress. This reality has gotten very little attention and caused no controversy. Neither Governor Chris Christie, Freeholder Louis Cappelli nor Mayor Dana Redd addressed poverty or even mentioned the "p" word during their recent "State of" addresses. The disturbing disconnect between violence and poverty signals that government, policy, business, and non-profit leaders still do not fully appreciate the challenge Camden faces.
No proposed solution -- not the new Metro Police Force, not internship programs, not tougher gun laws, not better schools, not a new and improved waterfront -- will solely and by itself save Camden from another record-breaking year of murders. Until we recognize and treat the post-traumatic stress that perpetuates violence, Camden cannot turn a corner to start becoming the prosperous city that we all seek.
The last time Camden set its murder record was 1995. In less than 20 years, this terrible history was repeated. Over 700 people have been killed in that time. This Tuesday, January 29th, S.T.O.P. will install over 700 symbols (crosses, stakes, balloons, candles, etc.) in Roosevelt Park to represent those who have been killed from between two record-setting years.
Our goal is not to create a cemetery or a stain on the city -- our action is for the living who need to feel to heal. Our statement is not about murder -- there are 32,000 people who are living on less than $31 a day, lacking safety and living in constant fear. This is not about glorifying death -- all death needs to be publicly grieved, especially when it happens in our streets.
Mayor Redd has asked for "workable and sustainable solutions will not solve the issues that the city is faced with." Our answer is this: Camden's public leaders, elected officials, and anchor institutions must recognize that trauma is a public health issue. That is why, with 700 symbols, S.T.O.P. is calling for a National Trauma Summit to be held in Camden in 2013. We want to mobilize the best minds in the country to confront the trauma and make this the year our city stopped being known for poverty and violence. It is our hope and intention that in confronting the impact of such sustained levels of poverty in our city, that Camden can become a national example of how to heal. Now that would be something nice to say about Camden!