Environmental Factor, February 2005, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Blacks in Government: Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday "A Day On, Not a Day Off"
Durham City Manager Patrick Baker told members of Blacks in Government that much work remains to be done to achieve the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.
Baker heard the stories of the civil rights movement as a child. His parent told him about their own struggles. His father, who became a career Marine, could not get into Wake Forest University because he was black. Today, Baker said, the issues civil rights leaders face are different, less clear than those faces by early civil rights leaders.
As city manager of Durham, Baker is charged with, among other things, trying to improve the city's image, which is marred by crime statistics. Gang activity in Durham is one of the issues he deals with, and one that affects the black community.
Baker described the issue as "a fight for the next generation of citizens" whose struggle for survival draws them to gangs.
For the City of Durham, that means getting a grip on crime and the perception of crime. Baker said the criminal justice system is a broken, overburdened system, one that is managed by the state and the county and one in which the city has little control. When violent criminals are locked up, they are angrier and more violent by the time they get out, he said.
"I'd like to take more of a public/private partnership to solve this problem," Baker said. Partnering with private enterprise and non-profits would provide more resources than are available from city alone, he said.
Baker described Durham as one of the most diverse communities in the state, but the positive aspects of the community are overshadowed by crime - actual and perceived. Run-down neighborhoods are magnets for crime, and have significantly higher incidence of prostitution, drug sales, violence and robberies, he said. To address the problem, the discussion must include economic development and neighborhood revitalization, he said.