By Brenda Flanagan
“I’m a little disappointed in how it was leaked out,” said Salaam Ismial.
Ismial co-chaired the commission that spent more than a year studying violence in New Jersey, but the community activist claims its long-awaited report wasn’t properly presented to the public.
“It’s political by its face, just by the Attorney General leaking it– putting it out. It wasn’t the Attorney General’s job to put out the report, it was the job of the commission, by law, to put it out. Not the Attorney General,” said Ismial.
The Attorney General’s office had no comment, but released the report with a press release touting a “…holistic approach set forth by Governor Christie to stem all forms of violence in New Jersey.” Politics aside, Ismial says, the report highlights crime rates, noting they’re down 10 percent from 2012-2013. In fact, plunged 18 percent statewide over the last decade. But violent crime dropped by only one percent in New Jersey’s biggest cities and 80 percent of these crimes occurred in urban areas.
“The person that pick up that gun, we need to start there. What makes them pick that gun up? And get so angry, so raged, he want to kill someone,” said Ismial.
As communities buy back hundreds of guns, police also collect weapons used to commit crimes. The report says cops amassed more than 3,800 in 2013, but only about 500 came from New Jersey, 87 percent were from other, mostly-southern states. As for gangs, cities with the most members apparently logged the highest number of shooting hits, but Ismial says this oversimplifies the gang shooter issue.
“You track their history, you see from middle school on, they had some sort of behavioral, mental health problem,” he said.
Ismial says isolation and mental health problems need urgent attention, and asks lawmakers to consider the report’s recommendations — a statewide media campaign to destigmatize mental illness and increased funding for Mobile Crisis Screening, intervention support and access to outpatient treatment. But politics keep intruding, from Senate Democrats seeking to override Christie’s veto of a gun safety bill. “There is a clear disconnect between the administration’s rhetoric and the actual content of the report. Obviously, they are attempting to use the report as another smokescreen because they are on the defensive on the public safety bill…”
“And I understand we gotta get through the politics, and I’m gonna try to talk to Mr. Kean — Tom Kean — Mr. Lesniak and all the others. Mr. Sweeney, and say, you know, cut it out. Let’s save lives,” Ismial said.
It’s personal for Ismial. His godson, Terry Murray, was gunned down at this apartment building in Elizabeth.
“Someone died, died at someone else’s hand. And it ignited me. It put me on fire,” he said.
Ismial says, the report is a good one. And with less political spin and more government funding, it could achieve positive results. He says he’ll keep working towards that — in his godson’s memory.