Contributing Writer @mzmuhammad1
NEWARK–According to law enforcement officials and advocates in the juvenile justice arena, street organizations or “gangs” in New Jersey have changed. It’s alarming, according to New Jersey State Police data, that the new gangs are smaller, younger, less entrepreneurial and more violent than their traditional, older predecessors.
The older gangs were focused on making money through the drug trade and threatening or killing rivals was mostly to maintain their stronghold on narcotic sales. The newer gangs are more violent and less involved in the drug trade with members as young as 12 years old and regularly egg each other on over social media brandishing firearms.
Youth gangs have “weaponized” social media, said Edwin Torres, an investigator for the State Commission of Investigation in an article published in the New Jersey Spotlight.
Against this backdrop approximately 300 community members met with various rival street organizations to help broker a peace treaty among gang factions. Hosted by rapper Mysonne the General and sponsored by Mayor Ras J. Baraka the gathering called “#KingsStopKillingKings: A Call to Action” was held at the Terrance Ballroom located in downtown Newark.
Street organization members and “violence interrupters”–activists and advocates who mediate disputes–met for private talks
Mayor Baraka, Mysonne, Shanduke McPhatter, CEO of G-MACC (Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc.) addressed the young people.
Kings Stop Killing Kings is about unity, said Mysonne during his opening remarks. “Everybody in here is your brother,” he said.
“It started with the life and passing of Nipsey Hussle. I understood what he represented and how he lost his life. The way he died is normalized in our community,” said Mysonne referring to the popular hip-hop artist and entrepreneur senselessly gunned down earlier this year.
“Every day, we see good brothers like him getting killed. We have taken neighbor out of neighborhood, and it becomes just about you. The reality is that we all come from the same exact struggle.”
Student Minister Abdul Haqq Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 25 presented a draft agreement to rival factions at the table. The agreement called for public places like schools, houses of worship, recreation centers and funeral homes being “designated buffer or neutral zones against violence.” The agreement outlined expectations for 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.
In a brief interview with The Final Call following the meeting, Mayor Baraka said he was delighted with the way the session unfolded. “This represents a foundational start,” he said. “We appreciate everybody that showed up, and we have a lot more work to do.”
Activist Tamika Mallory of the New York Justice League and Women’s March attended as an observer. She told The Final Call that what was witnessed could turn out to be the next most influential movement seen in a long while. “I think it an extension of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the importance of it in our communities,” said Ms. Mallory. “Mysonne is a young man who was formerly incarcerated, who has been in the community and is now a part of shaping the direction forward especially for Black men.”
“We need to strengthen Black men in the community and ensure that the relationship between Black men and women is strengthened. This meeting is a continuation of the powerful movements that we have seen before, and this is how it starts. People in these rooms building and then from there it will grow and become contagious within in our communities,” said Ms. Mallory.
“Between 2015 and 2017, there was a 26 percent increase in the number of juveniles arrested with firearms– 593 such arrests were made last year (2017),” noted njspotlight.com in a 2018 article, “New Jersey’s Newest Gangs: Younger, More Violent, and Posting Their Crimes Online.”
According to a Gang Awareness Guide published by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and Juvenile Justice Commission there are approximately 2,300 gang members under the age of 15 in New Jersey.
“The idea was initially presented to the mayor by Mysonne. We had a series of meetings as it relates to the vision and objective,” said Student Minister Muhammad. “At first, there was some turbulence, and we had to make some adjustments. We spoke to those whom we needed to speak to. A lot of our brothers and sisters in the street we spoke to them, and they spoke to us, and we heard them. Today’s meeting represents a good start for conflict resolution in the city of Newark. I think it went well, but time will tell how effective we were.”
Following the June 15 meeting, street organization members stayed behind to broker the truce while other participants and supporters gathered and marched to Washington Park about a mile away. At the park, several speakers shared their stories as victims of gun violence.
Tanisha Garner from Newark attended the meeting and the event at the park. “This needs to take place in every ‘hood. It needs to be in North, South, East, West, Central, major parts like Avon Avenue. (and) the housing authorities like Iron Bound. The message should be to the people who are being affected every day to hear the message,” Ms. Garner said.
During an impassionate plea to those who sat together earlier in the day, Mysonne the General told the young gang members they had an opportunity to change the narrative.
“This is historical,” he said. “You have the opportunity to change the future for your younger brothers. They look up to you. Now to me, that is gangsta.”
Final Call staff contributed to this report.