Camden Demolishes Derelict Houses to Reduce Crime

By Brenda Flanagan

“We just heard gunshots and I had to like duck,” said Camden resident Alethia Mosley.

Neighbors recalled the shooting — as police handed out fliers and searched for evidence — where gunfire hit an 8-year-old girl in the head as she played with friends on a Camden sidewalk last night.

“I just heard the mother — she was just screaming and crying and pleading. I never heard that type of shrieking scream like that,” Mosley said.

“We have multiple shooters in this. She was not the intended target, clearly,” said Camden County Police Chief John Scott Thomson.

Police believe the shooting — at Eighth and Spruce, on a designated Safe Corridor street — could be gang-related; the girl an innocent, caught in crossfire.

“You really get — and I have to say — sick and tired of guns and individuals that commit these senseless acts of violence without regard for one another and certainly for the community,” said Mayor Dana Redd.

There’s a terrible irony today though as Camden Police struggle to solve this crime. The city’s also celebrating a milestone in its campaign to demolish derelict houses where criminals often do business.

“It was bad for the empty houses to be in Camden around here because people be going inside those houses,” said Camden resident Rosetta Harris. “Doing drugs and stuff.”

That’s the main reason residents and officials want these eyesores razed — criminal activity.

“And they go and start living in them. And that’s when fire starts, they get high, people get killed in them. So I think it’s a good thing,” said Camden resident Junior Matthews.

Camden targeted almost 600 of these wrecks in January 2015 — the biggest housing demolition project in state history. They’ve cleared 531 and today started knocking down the rest. The result: hundreds of empty lots, where city officials hope to attract developers to build affordable housing.

“This is progress that we’re going to continue to build upon to make the lives of the people in this city — particularly the children — better and safer,” said Thomson.

“This project is proof positive that the neighborhoods are important — more important than anything else that happens in this city,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.

Camden’s earmarked another $3 million to tackle derelict commercial buildings next as the city seeks greater prosperity and safety. But with 30 homicides already logged this year, residents feel frustrated.

“We still have extremely challenged communities, of which you’re not going to wave a magic wand and undo five decades of social inequities that have led to cause things like this that occurred last night,” said Thomson.

Police announced a $5,000 reward for information about the shooting.