Blood drenched the streets of Brick City, also known as Newark, N.J., this past Christmas Day. Two teens were gunned down in cold blood, outraging a fed-up community. Three adults were also shot and killed in nearby Irvington, N.J.
Zainee Hailey,13, was slain while taking out the trash. Kasson Morman, 15, was shot as he sat on a porch on Schley Street in the South Ward. Jersey police reported that more than 100 people have been murdered this year in Newark, the highest rate since 2006.
Newark AntiViolence Coalition’s Bashir Akinyele blasted what has been dubbed as Newark’s “Christmas Killings.” “The Newark Anti-Violence Coalition (NAVC) has been warning the people of Newark and America, for over four years straight that senseless violence and Black self-genocide are a public health issue in the African-American community! You have not been listening,” charged Akinyele. “But now that Newark has experienced five murders on Christmas Day 2013 (two of the victims are Black children), and Newark’s murder rate has reached 100, Black people and concerned citizens must take a stand against the pandemic disease of senseless violence and Black self-genocide plaguing the African-American community.”
“I lost my mom to gun violence, so I know the unspeakable heartache the family is experiencing,” announced mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, as he rallied with the frustrated community on Monday, along with interim Mayor Luis Quintana and mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Anibal Ramos.
“The time has come to go beyond mere verbal outrage,” said Jeffries, the former assistant attorney general. “Cruel, senseless violence is the challenge of our time and must be addressed head-on.”
At the same time, one of the city’s legendary leaders, Amiri Baraka, has been hospitalized, and his son, Newark City Councilman and mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, is one of those at the helm of this latest anti-gun violence protest. Until he took a leave to run for mayor, Ras Baraka was the principal at Central High in Newark, where Morman went to school.
Next to him at Sunday’s press conference was Morman’s mother, Alnisa Reeds. “I just want to say I want justice for my son,” she said. “My son was a good child … He didn’t deserve this.”
Meanwhile, Abdul Frazier, 14, is in critical condition. He was sitting on the porch with Morman at the time of the shooting.
“We’re going to begin to patrol the streets ourselves,” said Baraka. In addition to demanding that more cops be put on the streets, Baraka also had a message for errant youth with weapons: “Put your guns down today … We’re here to ask you to do that.”
On Christmas Day, the same day the teens were murdered, three men were also shot to death. Outside Slick’s GoGo Bar on Nye Avenue in Irvington sits yet another street memorial of candles, flowers and tributes. Just after midnight on Christmas morning, Pierre Clervoyant, 24, Woodley Daniel, 32, and Mushir Cureton, 27, were gunned down there, while two others were wounded.
This past Saturday night, Jose Alfaro, 39, was shot and killed in his home on Mount Prospect Avenue. As of press time, there have been no arrests in any of the shootings.
On Monday, Jeffries spoke in front of Hailey’s Bragaw Avenue Elementary School in the South Ward. Standing with religious leaders, residents and family members of the slain teenager, Jeffries unveiled a five-point plan that, Jeffries said, if implemented, will immediately stem the rising tide of violence in Newark and set the stage for a safer city.
“Even during this time of despair, there is cause for hope,” said Jeffries. “We are optimistic because our own history in Newark teaches us that we can do better. We are optimistic because leaders and residents in places like East Orange, the Bronx and Brooklyn have turned war zones that were violently unlivable into safe, secure neighborhoods by investing in the right policies and programs. My faith is rooted not only in the strength of Newark’s people, but also my experience as an assistant attorney general, where we reduced violent crime three years in a row throughout the state. The question here is not what works, but whether we have the courage to do what does.”
As assistant attorney general and counsel under Attorney General Anne Milgram, Jeffries directly oversaw all juvenile justice and re-entry programs.
In mid-September, Newark witnessed 10 homicides in 10 days. This followed 11 murders in less than two weeks. On Christmas night, two teenagers were killed and another critically wounded. On Saturday, Newark’s homicide number hit 103 following the shooting death of a man in the North Ward.
Jeffries’ five-point plan is an extension of the public safety plan he announced in October and calls for:
Youth development and gang prevention
- Increase opportunities for at-risk youth in proven gang prevention and youth development programs.
- Add at least 1,000 after-school slots for children at risk, and at least 200 slots in proven gang-prevention programs for highest risk, gang-involved youth with history of prior crimes.
- Nonviolent offender diversion
- Divert nonviolent offenders to community-based programs.
- Use resources under the Affordable Care Act to provide more addiction and mental-health services for youth and adults at risk.
- Launch a real-time, intelligence-based crime control center
- Build and operate a real-time crime-control data center to drive intelligence-based preventive policing.
- Hire 75 police officers
- Hire 75 police officers and deploy them for proactive, intelligence-based community policing in high-crime areas.
- Zero tolerance for gun-related crimes
- Pursue mandatory sentences for all illegal gun possession or trafficking in Newark.
- Pursue mandatory sentences for all crimes involving illegal gun use, including aggravated assaults, armed robberies and homicides.
“Our experience in data-driven policies that create record results makes us uniquely qualified. It’s time to stop playing politics with the lives of Newark’s residents. We cannot create the kind of healthy, vibrant communities that we want if we do not tackle the issue of violent crime head-on—and it requires a comprehensive strategy that works,” said Jeffries.
Meanwhile, a funeral for Hailey was held on Tuesday at the New Zion Baptist Church in Elizabeth, N.J.
“The Newark Anti-Violence Coalition [NAVC] was launched in the summer of 2009 to protest the deadly epidemic of gun violence and to also protest both governmental and community indifference to this dangerous and pressing issue. Conceptualized and initiated by Amiri Baraka’s son, Councilman Ras Baraka, it began with the senseless slaying Nakisha Allen in broad daylight on July 20, 2009,” said activist and NAVC member Zayid Muhammad.
“I’m going to call on the conscientious individuals of this community and the people who are out here in these streets to put down their guns,” said Baraka. “I’m going to make a plea.”
Motivated by the strength of his conviction and the mounting community grief, Baraka declared, “And to all of those naysayers who say this is not going to work, [that] this is just another ploy or trick—it’s better to do something than nothing at all.”
“NAVC initiated sustained protests that continued for a historic 155 straight weeks, demanding that gun violence be declared a public health emergency,” Muhammed said. “The NAVC’s direct action strategy has inspired similar protests and formations in other cities similarly plagued with gun violence, like the Trenton Anti-Violence Coalition in the state’s capital.”