Former campaign foes Baraka, Jeffries speak against domestic violence together

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 30, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, former mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, anti-violence advocates Quentin Walcott and Keneth Baswell and Essex-Newark Legal Services director Felipe Chavana pose for pictures. The community leaders participated on a panel on domestic violence.

 

NEWARK — It wasn't long ago that former mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries and current Mayor Ras Baraka would sit at the same table and trade campaign barbs.

But today, the two politicians found some common ground, appearing on the same panel to talk about the fight against domestic violence.

Baraka and Jeffries spoke to an audience of about 50 at Rutgers University's Paul Robeson Center during a conference on intimate partner violence in African American communities.

Around the age of 9, Jeffries moved to California with his mother. She started a relationship with a locksmith, who one evening hit her after questioning her about the phone bill, he told the crowd.

The abuse would continue every few weeks. At one point, his mother locked her boyfriend out of their home, but he kicked the door down and dragged her out of the home, he said.

"She filed restraining order after restraining order after restraining order," Jeffries said, before adding that involving the judicial system only made the situation worse.

Eventually they ran away. But on Nov. 25, 1985, he went to her work place and killed her with a sawed-off shotgun, he said.

"Every since that time, I've been unbelievably passionate about this issue," he said. "To me it's one of the most important issues in our world."

Quentin Walcott, the co-executive director of the New York-based domestic violence organization Connect, echoed similar sentiments. He said community organizations must see domestic violence as a social justice issue.

"Domestic violence is not a womens' issue," he said. "We have to really see it as a mens' issue."

Kenneth Braswell, the executive director of Fathers Incorporated, agreed on the solutions to domestic violence.

"We're never in disagreement about why," he said. "We're in disagreement about how."

Baraka emphasized that the causes of violence are primarily social. In addition to the negative media images about African American men, loss of economic opportunities can foster violence in communities, Baraka said.

"It's important that we address some of these issues in a social context," he said.

Baraka said though he and his father, the late Amiri Baraka, don't believe in the death penalty, he understands first hand why victims want stiff penalties for violent crimes.

About ten years ago, El-Amin Pasha was convicted of killing Mayor Baraka's sister, Shani Baraka, and her friend Rayshon Holmes.

Shani Baraka had been living in Piscataway with her half-sister Wanda Wilson, when they went to Wilson's home on Aug. 12, 2003. While the two women were in the house, Pasha, the estranged husband of Wilson, snuck in through and fired six shots, killing the two women, according to trial evidence.

Afterwards all the panelists stood shoulder-to-shoulder to pose for cameras.

"Get closer to the Mayor," one photographer told Jeffries. He obliged.

Asked by a reporter afterwards if he felt uncomfortable appearing with someone who was once his political competitor, Jeffries said no.

"No, it wasn't awkward," he said. "It's good to see him. I wish him well."

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