Gang leaders met face-to-face in Newark to talk peace

Updated Jun 16, 2019

Newark gang members and activists working for peace in the city gathered Saturday and reached a truce aimed at reducing gang violence.

So-called “violence interrupters” and gang members gathered for private peace talks at 3 p.m. The talks were followed by a 5 p.m. “Kings Stop Killing Kings” rally at Newark’s Symphony Hall and march down Broad Street.

A draft of the the agreement, which was passed out to those who attended the peace talks between the sometimes rival gangs, stated that public places such as schools, houses of worship, recreation centers and funeral homes would be “designated buffer or neutral zones against violence.”

The agreement went on to outline expectations for the gang members, including not using social media to “dispute, call for, glorify or insinuate the killing of a member of another organization," and not invading “upon each other’s community or neighborhood” without prior notice.

Gang leaders sat around four tables, organized in a square in the center of the Terrace Ballroom, while Newark Mayor Ras Baraka gave an impassioned speech. He implored the gang leaders to cease violence and instead turn their energy towards building the community by doing things like purchasing empty buildings to start businesses or homes.

“I’m not into coddling grown men," he said. “Some of you guys know better...It is more comfortable for you to act like you are asleep, to blend in with everybody else, when you know better. And the reality of that is you just don’t just have no courage. You’re just scared."

Following the speeches from other anti-violence advocates, spectators and families were asked to leave the ballroom while leaders negotiated the truce. Cassady Fendlay, a spokeswoman for the Justice League NYC who was involved in the talks, told NJ Advance Media that the gang leaders reached a truce Saturday night.

Over 100 people gathered outside the hall and began marching down Broad Street, under the watchful eyes of Newark police officers wearing bulletproof vests. Children sat on their father’s shoulders and young people carried signs and flags.

“Stop the violence. Peace in the streets." the marchers yelled as pedestrians on the sidewalk stopped to watch, some raising their fists in solidarity.

Organizers said the crowd was there in honor of Nipsey Hussle, a Grammy-nominated rapper, who was killed on March 31, just one day before he was slated to meet with the Los Angeles Police Department about curbing street violence. Hussle, who was born with the name Ermias Asghedom, was known for giving back to his community.

“This rally and peace march is a tribute to the late, great Nipsey Hussle, whose tireless work on behalf of social justice inspired countless activists to join our movement,” Carmen Perez, executive director of the Gathering For Justice and a former co-chair of the national Women’s March, said.

From a small stage in the park, actors, musicians and social media influencers encouraged the crowd to pursue nonviolent conflict resolution and told their own stories of getting shot, or explained the emotional trauma of a family member dying from gang violence.

“There is a war on us, why are we at war with each other?” actress and producer Yandy Smith-Harris said.

Other speakers included Justice League NYC member Tamika Mallory, hip hop artist and author Chi Ali, and leading “violence interrupters” and community organizers like Shanduke McPhatter and Jamila T. Davis.

The Newark rally follows a similar demonstration in The Bronx last month where former and active gang members called for better conflict resolution among community members and a stronger City crisis management system, according to News 12.

Although violent crime is down slightly in New Jersey, according to State Police data, there was an increase in minors who were arrested for having a firearms, the State Commission for Investigation said last year. Officials point to increased gang violence among children. These new gangs are less-organized, less-established but more deadly, officials said. The gangs recruit children as young as 12, and frequently use social media to broadcast shootings, according to testimony from the State Commission for Investigation.

In 2015, 472 minors had been arrested for having a firearm in New Jersey. In 2017, nearly 600 were booked — a 26 percent increase, officials said. More up-to-date statistics were not readily available.

Still, violence remains an intractable problem in Newark. On Saturday, just minutes from where the gang leaders met to discuss peace, two men in masks pulled up on a woman in a car and shot her in the back. The woman was not seriously injured and that incident has not been determined to be gang-related.

For the smattering of nonprofit and activism groups that organized The Bronx and Newark rallies, this street crime is exactly what they hope to prevent. Perez said she hopes “Kings Stop Killing Kings” becomes a movement that impacts not just Newark and New York, but the whole nation.

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