By Michael Hill
A block from Fairmount Cemetery, a candle flickers at a makeshift memorial outside a liquor store where someone gunned down 20-year-old Tyquan Rogers — Newark’s 104th murder by late December. Mayor Ras Baraka knows Rogers’ family and shared the heartbreak with city council a day later.
“As she cried on the floor she lost a third of her sons all to gun violence in the city. We desperately need to do something different about what’s happening in the city,” Baraka said.
Newark has 280,000 residents. The city finished 2015 with 105 murders, amounting to 37 homicides per 100,000 residents. That’s compared to 93 murders in 2014, 33 per 100,000.
Across the Hudson, New York City has nearly 8.5 million people. It recorded 348 homicides last year, four per 100,000 residents. There were 333 homicides in 2014, four per 100,000.
In both cities killings by gunfire are increasing. What will Mayor Baraka’s plan of restructuring under a public safety umbrella do about the gun violence to solve crime in a city where a third of the 2014 homicides has no arrest?
“The reality is there’s no magic trick, right, except that we have full employment, at some point. That’s number one. But, ultimately we need people to come forward. We need intelligence. We need to make intelligence on the street and people have to feel comfortable in order to do that. They have to have a better relationship with the police. They have to feel like they’re going to be protected. They have to understand that we may have to relocate them,” he said.
The mayor blamed gun trafficking and illegal possession for some of the violence. The soon-to-be-retiring police chief said the department is making progress tracing guns and shares the results with the feds and state police.
“We take this so seriously. We actually have a member of the ATF, a federal entity, embedded in our major crimes unit to actually work with our detectives, and obviously not only to investigate gun crimes, but actually searching, going back and finding out where the gun came from, time from purchase to crime,” Chief Anthony Campos said.
“I don’t think people wake up and just decide to kill people,” Adbul Muhammad said.
Muhammad — the former lead instructor at Newark’s Fatherhood program — is an employment specialist. He says there are a lot of inner city ills — generations of failing schools, lack of skills, drugs and mental illness — that lead to frustration and broken men.
“The question is how do we rebuild that spirit? How do we rebuild community?” Muhammad asked. “I think that’s what’s missing.”
“The approach is going to have to be multi-layered, especially in a city like Newark,” Jon Shane said.
Shane, a Newark native, spent 20 years with the Newark Police Department and retired as captain. He’s now a professor of police policy and practice with a focus on crime control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He says fighting violent crime requires an academic analysis.
“It’s not enough to say we have a gun problem. It’s not enough to say we have a violence problem. We need to drill down specifically and parse out the specific types of violence that they have. Are they occurring on the street? Are they occurring in or among gangs? Are they domestic disputes? What types of problems because they all require different interventions,” Shane said.
The mayor says he’s at wit’s end about illegal guns winding up on Newark’s streets and he’ll ask the council to adopt a resolution supporting the president’s executive order. It’s an order Shane says will have no bearing on combating crime in Newark.