Lawmakers Look to Study Roots of Urban Violence

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

Frightened and frustrated. That’s how many people in this community in Newark feel after last week’s brazen shooting in broad daylight. Four people were shot in a car here; two died. Among them, 36-year-old Akbar Muhammed, the son of a prominent local imam.

“All Newarkers, our hearts grieve with the Muhammed family for loss of their son. As Muslims, we have a high regard for life, particularly in a city we live in. We have been here, we work here, life-long commitment, we want to see the situation change,” said Muhammed family spokesperson Amin Nathari.

So does Sen. Ron Rice and his colleagues in the Assembly. That’s why they’ll introduce a bill creating a commission. Its mission: to study the roots of urban violence and recommend methods to address them.

“You can’t have a 13-year-old putting out garbage gunned down. We can’t have people sitting in cars, having a conversation, getting gunned down. We just can’t have that without saying we got to address it,” said Rice.

“This goes on every day in places in our society and this state. And the leadership is not there to speak out and try to resolve these situations. We cut cops in Newark and no one says a damn word,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker admits police alone won’t solve the problem, but she says they’re a vital part of the solution.

“We’re also going to introduce legislation saying that in urban cities that you must — especially in areas with a lot of violent crime — you must maintain a certain police force based on population and based on the crime,” Tucker said.

Newark logged 111 murders in 2013, one of the highest recorded over the past two decades. Sen. Rice says the situation reminds him of the 1960s when riots erupted in downtown Newark. The difference today? He says guns are more prevalent. He believes the imam’s son’s murder touched a raw nerve.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was street justice. The Muslim community, are very disciplined. They have a habit of taking care of their own,” Rice said.

“He’s right. We do take care of our own,” Nathari said.

But he’s quick to point out that doesn’t mean fighting back with violence.

“It’s going to have be an economic solution, political solutions. But first and foremost, it has to start with the individual and people take responsibility in their communities,” said Nathari.

These lawmakers plan to ramp up the pressure to ensure the state budget funds social programs that address poverty, joblessness and other problems plaguing crime ridden communities.