Mayor Baraka meets with ex-offenders and gang members to address violence

Craig D. Frazier | 11/6/2014, 2:57 p.m.
In July, newly elected Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka introduced his “100 Day Plan.”
Ras Baraka

In July, newly elected Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka introduced his “100 Day Plan.” His transition team of more than 250 community leaders went right to work on the reforms for Newark public safety, engagement, executive recruiting, education and economic development.

Four months into his tenure, the radical mayor is implementing unconventional new tactics to fight crime. Recently, Baraka invited ex-offenders, gang members and police to a closed meeting in a church in Newark to discuss ways to prevent crimes. Members on parole and probation from a re-entry program in Newark also attended the meeting. Baraka, who was raised in Newark, said things that plague his city such as guns, violence and mental illness affect him and his family.

“We’re trying to engage them in city services. We’re trying to let them know that they are either a positive part of the growth of the city or a negative part,” said Baraka in a recent interview. “We are using the restorative justice model, where we let them know the effect they are having on the community and the neighborhood.”

During the summer, city officials, police officers, clergy and civic activists visited sections of the city and met with residents concerning the problems in their neighborhoods.

“We pick certain segments of the city in a neighborhood and we talk to gang members and people on parole, and help them understand that there’s alternatives for them. They can give up the lifestyle of committing crime,” said Newark Police Director Eugene Venable.

Baraka recently demoted six deputy police chiefs to put more cops back on the streets. Approximately 70 percent of the Newark police force is now patrolling the streets in an attempt to make neighborhoods safer.