By David Cruz
The new year began in much the same way the old year ended – with blood spilled on the streets of Newark again – 111 homicides, the most in nearly a quarter century. This morning, mayor Luis Quintana was touring precinct houses, bucking up the troops while – at the same time – calling for help.
“This is a city in crisis,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us. It’s going to take the city. It’s going to take the state to come in here and give us more resources to try to put more boots on the street, give us more equipment. New Jersey’s largest city needs attention.”
It was only yesterday that mourners gathered to say goodbye to 13-year-old Zainee Hailey, who was killed on Christmas Day by a stray bullet. Since her death, seven other Newarkers have fallen, all by gunfire. City officials say the root of the problem is the easy access to guns and a depleted police force.
“We’re down to under a thousand sworn police officers in the Newark Police Department,” said Councilman Anibal Ramos. “At our highpoint, when we had the lowest number of murders on record, we were probably closer to 1,700.”
But the problem is deeper, says Councilman Ras Baraka, who earlier this week, drew criticism for suggesting that city leaders needed to reach out to gang members, whose battles have been at the center of much of the violence. He says simply calling for more cops is not only economically unfeasible but misses the target.
“Acknowledging gang members? They’re going to acknowledge you,” said Baraka. “They’re acknowledging our children, like they’re killing them on our streets. Either we’re going to address them or we’re going to pretend that they don’t exist. We can’t do that. We can’t pretend we’re not sick. There’s sickness going on and it’s already in our family.”
The mayor says he will announce a city-wide anti-crime initiative on Friday. He says he has ordered the police department to come up with new strategies, although today, his comments sounded a lot like what Newarkers have been hearing for more than a decade.
“We are going to work together,” said Quintana. “Separate from the politics and anything else, we wanna talk about Newark and where Newark is going to direct, and where Newark’s future is going to be.”
On the street, meanwhile, residents say anger has given way to another emotion.
Police say the supply of illegal guns on these streets is constant. What’s in short supply is hope, and confidence that anything can be done to stop the violence.