DURHAM: Mayor: Durham should focus on reducing poverty rate - WRBL

Mayor: Durham should focus on reducing poverty rate

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Durham Mayor Bill Bell delivers the 2014 state of the city address. Durham Mayor Bill Bell delivers the 2014 state of the city address.
DURHAM, N.C. -

In his 12th State of the City address, Durham Mayor Bill Bell said on Monday that more city resources should focus on reducing poverty, but he did not mention recent high-profile clashes between some Durham citizens and the police.

"Great things are indeed happening in Durham," Bell said. "The state of our city is good, but it can be better."

To get better, Bell said the city needs to reduce the poverty rate, which currently sits at about 20 percent, to about 12.5 percent by the year 2020. That is a statewide standard set by the North Carolina Division of Public Health.

To do that, Bell said the city needs to utilize existing financial resources and strengthen partnerships with non-profits that focus on poverty. That includes the Manpower Development Corporation's "Made In Durham" program, which uses partnerships with companies and community leaders to find employment for those in poverty.

Relationships Equipping Allies and Leaders, or REAL Durham, was another program mentioned by Bell. He said starting March the program will match families in poverty with volunteers who will offer financial planning, job training and access to affordable housing and healthcare.

Bell said he hopes that focus on poverty will reduce the city's crime rate, which was slightly up last year.

"The presence of poverty is not a justification for crime," Bell said. "But its presence and the accompanying deficits in education, job training, jobs, poor health care and lack of access to services are all contributing factors to the level of crime."

People WNCN spoke with came away from the speech impressed.

"That is a real issue that affects my heart personally," Frankie Perry said. "The fact that he's addressing it and making it a part of his platform, I really like that."

"I really liked the fact that he made the correlation between educational achievement and poverty, and also crime," Michelle Laws said.

No mention of police issues

While Bell's speech did begin with a call for "relationship building" between the city and the community, he did not specifically mention a number of recent high-profile police incidents. 

Three protests in recent months against the department have turned violent after 17-year-old Jesus Huerta died while in police custody in November. Police said the teen shot himself while seated in a police cruiser and handcuffed from behind.

In December, officers released tear gas on crowds in downtown Durham after they say some protestors threw rocks and bottles at officers. In two other protests, demonstrators vandalized police cars and broke windows at police stations.

Monday night, Police Chief Jose Lopez praised Bell's focus on poverty, but took no questions from reporters.

Bell addressed the issue with reporters by saying it's time the city moved on.

"Durham is a lot bigger than that," Bell said, "It's a lot bigger than that, and I'm not demeaning what has happened in that respect. I certainly feel for the loss of the young man and his family. All of us do -- this community does. But this community must go on, and in my opinion, we will go on."

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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