Interfaith Coalition Hopes to Curb Violence in Newark

The push for stiffer gun control measures has taken a front seat on the American consciousness after the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last month. President Barack Obama unveiled a $500 million gun violence package today aimed at reducing violence nationwide. That was good news to members of the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace, whose mission is to curb violence in New Jersey’s largest city.

Bishop Mark Beckwith said Obama’s proposal isn’t as much as he would want, but it’s a step in the right direction. He said aside from the Newtown shooting, there have been other acts of unspeakable violence with guns. The impetus for the interfaith coalition was the 2007 schoolyard shooting in Newark that left three teens dead and one wounded at the hands of gang members.

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While Imam W. Deen Shareef said a lot has changed since 2007 in Newark, since the incident galvanized the community and made residents aware about gun issues. “The inner city has suffered from many of these guns actually being brought up from other places and being purchased illegally and brought into the inner cities,” he said. “So the community is galvanized around what the president is doing.”

Shareef said there needs to be background checks and applications for Americans to secure weapons just as there are vigorous requirements to work at the Port of Newark and Elizabeth.

Changing the gang culture is important, according to Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz. “One of the things we have found in dealing with gang violence is that it’s not our job to rid the city of gangs, but to change their focus. If people don’t have a family structure, if people don’t have a financial structure, people don’t have a social network in which to connect, then these other things are not going to work out so easily as well,” he said. “Guns are an issue but unless you have the other things that make for a whole society, then there are lots of other issues as well.”

Beckwith said the Newark Interfaith Coalition has mentoring programs available and it brings in other groups with a similar mission. “When there is greater support and networking, that helps everyone and it minimizes the fear level in the community and builds up the whole notion of hope and peace, which is what we’re about,” he said.

Shareef said education is key. “We have to engage the community. I think the efforts that we are attempting to project into the city of Newark, as well as Essex County, is that it’s important to educate people about how they ought to resolve differences, how to resolve conflict. And I think the important thing is to change the manner in which we have young people address their differences,” he said.