After recent surge of violence, Baraka announces plans to 'occupy' crime-plagued Newark blocks

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 13, 2015

NEWARK — After a rash of fatal shootings in recent days, Mayor Ras Baraka is planning to take his latest plan to combat crime to the streets.

In an email sent to city employees this morning, the mayor outlined a strategy he called "Occupy the Block." With the program set to launch on Thursday, the mayor said he will select a single city block where he and others will "hold court" — setting up tables and chairs for chess, cards, and open discussion on anything from the city's youth to the violence they too often experience.

Baraka said he had spent weeks formulating the program, which is modeled after grassroots "Occupy the Hood" events that have taken hold in New York City, but that a rash of recent killings, including a Mother's Day shooting that claimed the life of a 15-year-old boy, spurred him to put it into action as quickly as possible.

"As you can imagine that last few days have been stressful for me to say the least and has made me reflect on many things from the encouragement of friends, the determination of supporters, and even the vitriolic words of haters," the email said. "I am rightly prepared to carry this burden and am not shying away from it."

Earlier this year, Baraka touted a 40 percent drop in homicides and substantial declines in overall crime during the year's first quarter, compared with the same period in 2014.

But the arrival of spring has brought a spike in violence across the city, all but erasing the once-significant reductions.

As of March 29, Newark police had recorded just 15 murders, though shooting incidents as a whole were roughly on par with the year prior. In the weeks since, however, the number of homicides has more than doubled to 32. Statistics dated May 3 indicate that 113 people had been shot so far this year, a 26 percent increase over the first four months over 2014.

Baraka acknowledged the early year's progress in today's email, as well as his efforts to hire 150 more police officers this year, create jobs and summer activities for youths, and other programs to help connect residents with police and keep them young people away from a life of crime.

However, he acknowledged that additional efforts such as the "Occupy" program would be necessary to help stem the renewed tide of violence, and called on the community to do its part to advance the cause.

"My heart is driven by hope and my action by faith. I know that all we need to do is take that extra step forward and choose to be a part of the solution and not perpetuate the problem...This movement begins with you," he said.

The mayor also specifically called on men to attend the events, which will be held at least three times per week on problematic blocks selected each Monday.

The first "occupation" will be held on Clinton Avenue and Chadwick Street at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and a second has been scheduled at Chancellor Avenue and Schley Street at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Baraka, who has made public safety one of the hallmarks of his administration since becoming mayor last July, said the recent bloodshed in Newark had been "stressful", but pledged that any criticism or negative attention would not cause him to shy away from the issue.

"This moment belongs to me the good and bad," he said.

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