At Newark town hall, Baraka calls on community to help curb siege of violence

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for
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on December 03, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, center, talks during the town hall meeting as Newark Police Director Eugene Venable, left, and Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murphy listen. Newark Has Town Hall Meeting To Address Violence and Public Safety.


NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka and other law enforcement officials tonight implored members of the Newark community to help with address issues they say are at the root of the city’s struggles with crime and violence.

Speaking at a town hall meeting and public panel discussion at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Baraka was joined by Police Director Eugene Venable, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray and Rutgers-Newark Provost Todd Clear, all of whom said that any turnaround must be focused not just on crime-fighting, but a host of other social and economic issues.

“There’s no way in God’s name that we can govern this city from the throne of City Hall,” he said. “It’s important that everybody in this audience gets angry about the violence, but angry enough to do something about it.”

The meeting comes amid a turbulent period in the city, with eight murders over eight days pushing its total for the year to 87.

The pace is still behind that of last year, when police recorded 111 murders — its highest total since 1990. However, Baraka publicly decried the recent spike in bloodshed earlier this week, saying it had pushed the city into a “state of emergency” and announcing a number of changes to policing strategy.

He doubled down on those comments during Wednesday’s meeting, detailing the partnerships with outside law enforcement agencies and other measures he said have proven effective for periods of time and in targeted neighborhoods over the course of the year.

“We’ve always been in emergency. Anytime where almost 100 African-American and Latino boys die in a year, it’s an emergency. Not just for us, but it’s an emergency for America,” he said.

Baraka has repeatedly stressed the importance of public safety since taking office in July, pledging to take cops out from behind desks and onto the streets and to help repair the relationship between the police department and community.

However, he and other speakers agreed that a safer Newark would require wholesale changes to its education system, greater economic opportunities and a public that trusts and shares information with law enforcement.

“We will not arrest our way out of a crime problem,” Murray said.

Other speakers acknowledged that many of the social and economic ills are intertwined, but that changing the perception that residents and outsiders must constantly be wary of violence will likely need to occur before job creation and the development of new businesses can truly take hold.

“People don’t go outside, people don’t do the things that cities that Newark need unless they can feel safe,” he said.

Rayla Basknight, a lifelong Newark resident now raising a grandchild, spoke during a question-and-answer portion of the meeting to say she felt the city’s children were being failed by a lack of support from various arms of the community.

“It’s been years since some of these children have had anybody care for them… I came here to find out what alternatives our children have, and they have none. They go to jail, the schools are closed, they’ve got diplomas and they can’t read their own names,” she said. “We have to take something back for our kids.”

Baraka agreed, calling on families, neighbors, clergy, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders to show a greater investment in youth and the city as a whole.

“We have to have a long-term strategy, and that long-term strategy has to involve the people in this audience. And we are begging you to get up and help us do something about what’s happening.”

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