By David Cruz
It was an odd juxtaposition. Scenes of charity and community today on the week of Thanksgiving, a sharp contrast to scenes of anger and destruction in Ferguson, touched off by a grand jury decision announced after a day full of media speculation and civic foreboding.
“I think that the decision to not indict is a tragic decision for the Brown family but also for America, period,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Baraka was at the opening of a playground today, greeting students at Sussex Street School. He called the decision a missed opportunity for justice. Even in these happy surroundings, the grand jury decision weighed on his mind as it has on many leaders of big cities, where strained racial and police relations are a daily backdrop to life.
“Every city in America has the kind of conditions that exist. I think that Ferguson — in terms of democratic representation — was a few decades behind,” he added. “I think that the efforts that the Newark police are making now to better their relationships with the community is good and I think that we are far away from that incident and we’re gonna keep working so that we never get there.”
Compared to the scenes in Ferguson, demonstrations held in Newark and Jersey City today were peaceful. At regular lunch service for the homeless in Jersey City, Sen. Cory Booker and Mayor Steve Fulop met the press together, a subtle message of unity that they wanted to send to the city, and to the country. Booker criticized the grand jury but cautioned that underlying conditions needed to be addressed.
“Right now we have a country that’s 5 percent of the globe’s population but we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population,” said the senator. “Think about this for a second, and it is dramatically, in my opinion, and based on fact, biased against poor people and minorities.”
Jersey City Mayor Fulop said his city had made strides in improving police relations. “We’ve tried to … promote diversity in the police department. That’s something that you can learn from what happened in Ferguson for sure,” he said. “I’m proud that in Jersey City here we had peaceful protests. There were people that demonstrated earlier today and they did it peacefully and that’s what this country’s about.”
It’s unfortunate that most of our conversations about race and police relations frequently take place in the middle of crisis. The leaders we spoke to today said that it’s imperative that this conversation continue long after the demonstrations are over.