New hip hop movement aims to bring peace to streets in Newark (FCN, 01-04-2005)

NEWARK ( – Blood stained the streets of this city Dec. 14, as four people were shot to death, and three more wounded, in what police officials, the mayor and the media are calling “street gang-related violence.”

The next day, two more died in street violence in New Jersey’s largest city, bringing the total of homicides for 2004 to 85, surpassing the 2003 total of 83. Newark Police Director Anthony Ambrose was quoted in the city’s Star Ledger as saying that “overall” crime was down in the city by nine percent.


The daily newspaper also said that Mr. Ambrose and Newark’s five-term mayor, Sharpe James, “sought to downplay” the effect of the violence on the “ordinary” citizen, in a city whose population is 53.5 percent Black. The police director surmised that the “average” citizen would not fall victim to street violence. The Star Ledger said the mayor told them that all the people shot had gang connections, and were only shooting each other.

Some activists are saying that neither the mayor nor the City Council has done enough to stop the violence. In the meantime, community leaders say they are confident that the May 21 peace treaty signed by members of the city’s Bloods and the Crips would remain in effect.

“The mayor is under attack at this moment, because there are some who want to use the homicide rate as an issue to demonstrate the mayor’s level of political failure,” offered Minister Michael Muhammad, of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 25, and a mediator for Saving Our Selves (SOS), a coalition of gang members who maintain the peace on the streets.

Mr. Muhammad added that law enforcement never really supported the truce. Some community activists are also charging the mayor and city council with not doing enough to combat the violence. Calls to Mayor James’ office were not returned.

“The mayor said he would meet with the grassroots leadership two weeks ago, when the four bodies were found in a South Ward lot, and he hasn’t met with us yet,” charged “The Street Warrior,” Abdul Salim Muhammad, founder of Self Determination Inc., a Newark-based community organization.

“We are giving the mayor 14 days to meet with the community. If he fails to meet with us, we will take our case to the federal government,” Mr. Muhammad said, adding, “The Department of Homeland Security spends a lot of money to protect the downtown financial district, but nothing to protect the people in the neighborhoods. There is a war going on in our streets.”

While there is visible evidence of development in the area surrounding Springfield Avenue, such as new homes and foundations for more new housing, that’s all there is, according to 50-year-old Kelvin Barber, whose family has lived in the community for over 54 years. He is a sexton at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, established 74 years ago.

“If you say that money coming back to the community is a positive change, that’s true. But that money isn’t coming to the people who really need it. Our children are not getting any education, not getting jobs–they still believe that the ‘street-life’ is the only life,” offered Mr. Barber.

“We don’t want to be out here,” shared a 31-year-old unemployed Black man, who talked to The Final Call on Clinton Avenue, a few feet from where a young inspiring rapper was gunned down on Dec. 14. “I have been looking for a job now for a year-and-a-half,” he said, admitting that many of his friends were also out of work. I want something better for my nine-year-old, he added.

Newark’s unemployment rate was 48.7 percent as of October 2004, the highest rate in New Jersey, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The federal labor agency reports that 29 percent of Blacks in Newark have no high school diploma, which is higher in the Latino community at 43.3 percent. It has also been reported that 29.6 percent of Black families and 33.3 percent of Latino families live in poverty.

“I blame the city for what is going on in the streets,” said the owner of a variety store near the corner of Clinton and 10th, who identified himself as “Tee.” He said the city lacked focus.

“They are building $300,000 homes a few blocks away, but there is nothing for our community. That’s why you see so many around here out of work,” Tee said.

The police say the shooting of Robert Brown, (aka Torch), the aspiring rapper and construction worker was gang-related, Tee insisted that explanation is an easy way out for the police.

“Torch would come in here almost every day,” he recalled. “He was gifted and he was very quiet.”

According to Abdul Muhammad (Street Warrior), the solution to the violence in Newark is economic empowerment. “The politicians have been promising more programs for training and education, and they have yet to deliver, but we are going to step up the pressure on them,” Mr. Muhammad said.