NEWARK, N.J. (NNPA) - Five-hundred protesters stopped a mid-August music performance at a major city music venue, in one of a series of demonstrations designed to pressure Mayor Cory A. Booker to take more action and engage the community to combat street violence.
Organizers of the ongoing campaign want Mayor Booker to convene a major town hall meeting, declare street violence a public health emergency, and provide support and resources to address the problem. The New Black Panther Party is one of the campaign's major organizers.
Protest organizers say the July 20 crossfire shooting of Keisha Allen, a mother of two, sparked anti-violence activists to push harder for peace in the streets.
"Definitely the shooting of the sister ignited our efforts to come together for some direct action. We put together a coalition of organizations such as Enough is Enough, Street Warriors, the Nation of Islam, Saving Ourselves, the National Youth Council, Black Cops Against Police Brutality, Raz and Amiri Baraka," Bashir Akinyele, a New Black Panther Party spokesperson for the Newark chapter, told The Final Call. "The whole reason for our civil disobedience is to get the mayor to get down with all of the community leaders in the city, who are concerned about stopping the violence," he explained.
Anthony Hall, who lost his 24-year-old son to street violence in 2007, and Monica Boyd, who lost her 18-year-old son, Shafe in 2006, said the mayor must come meet with grassroots leaders.
"The mayor has to come to the community, and he must honor our demands; which are little demands. What we are asking for is a small thing to a giant," Hall said.
According to Mr. Akinyele, there is also a desire for the mayor to fund community mental health facilities, fire Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and create jobs.
"When you get 500 people marching together at NJPAC—shutting down a concert—half of these people have lost someone to street violence, that means we are serious," said Hall, who also lost a 15-year-old cousin to street violence. "We went down to NJPAC in unity, seeking peace and justice," he added.
Newark is the largest city in New Jersey with a population of 281,402. The city is 53.46 percent Black, and 29.47 percent Latino, with Whites constituting 26.52 percent of residents, according to census figures. Unemployment in the Black community has ranged between 12 and 15 percent since 2003.
But nearly 4 in 10 unemployed Black males are ages 18 to 24. Poverty remains a consistent problem in Newark, including 25.5 percent of the families falling below the poverty line. Median family income is $30,781, with median household income at $26,913. Twenty-nine percent of Newark households are headed by a single female.
The mayor was asked to comment on the demands of the anti-violence coalition during a show on a local radio station. He expressed support for Commissioner McCarthy for reducing shootings by 40 percent over the past three years. There were just 14 homicides between Jan. 1 and May 1 of this year, compared to 17 during the same period in 2008, said Mayor Booker.
The mayor's office said there were 67 homicides in 2008, compared to 99 deaths in 2007. "We understand that we have a lot of work to do, we're not standing on our recent successes," Mayor Booker said during the radio audience.
Majied Muhammad, Nation of Islam student regional Fruit of Islam captain, said the mayor must become more sensitive to the people's needs. "The mayor needs to come to the community and meet face-to-face with people—look them in the eye," Muhammad said. The role of the Nation of Islam at the rallies is to talk to people about the toll violence is taking on the community, he said.
"The mayor does not understand what it is like to lose a young child, it is very devastating. They have not yet found who killed my child. The mayor needs to come out to the community. He also needs to remember that he will soon be running for re-election," Boyd told The Final Call.
Police Superintendent McCarthy did not respond to interview requests. However, he issued a statement after an Aug. 5 rally, which shut down one of Newark's busiest intersections for two hours. The police chief said he "supported" public free speech, and urged protesters to take action to improve public safety in their neighborhoods.
"We have lost a four year old to a drive-by; we've lost 12-year-olds and nine-year-olds to this violence. And on the night of the rally at NJPAC, a 30-year-old woman was killed by another drive-by, some say seven shots were fired, which shows the importance of what we are doing," Mr. Akinyele said.
Mayor Booker did not respond to a Final Call request for comment.