By Brenda Flanagan
As a motorcade of municipal cars and several buses packed with supporters — led by Mayor Ras Baraka — rolled toward Port Newark to protest alleged racism and lack of local and minority hiring by the Longshoremen’s union. They ran into a show of force by Port Authority Police. The motorcade ground to a halt for some tense negotiations.
“They were trying to deny access to certain vehicles. I mean the permit doesn’t say, ‘Certain vehicles can’t come in,'” said Newark Deputy Mayor Rahaman Muhammad.
“They want to pigeonhole our response into the way that they like it,” Baraka said.
The protest started with dramatic accusations back at City Hall where Baraka claimed he would accept only one longshoremen’s local — ILA 1235 — because it had started hiring more African-Americans.
“Because that is the only local that has been hiring us in a democratic way. All the rest of the locals are racist and need to be done away with immediately,” he said.
Baraka claimed only 40 out of the more than 1,300 members of Local 1804-1 are African-American. He pointed to a message sent by one ILA member, Francesco DeFelice, that called the mayor a criminal, the city a disgrace full of crime and drugs, noted four generations of his family had worked at the port, and promised, “You will never work here, mark my words.”
“The dichotomy is, four generations of other people’s families that live a stone’s throw from the port have grown up in debilitating poverty,” Baraka said.
Neither DeFelice nor the ILA commented. The New York Shipping Association says it’s creating “…a more diverse and skilled port workforce. Since 2014, over 60 percent of all newly hired workers have identified as minorities with African-Americans making up 34 percent and Hispanics, 20.5 percent of new hires.” But critics claim that doesn’t reflect local demographics.
“This is the reason why we’re taking this motorcade down to the Port Newark/Port Elizabeth. We need to tell them the jobs at Port Newark, Port Elizabeth belong to Newark residents,” said Al Turrick Kenney, manager of port activities for the city of Newark.
“Stop holding these racial barriers up on our people so they can’t work and be gainfully employed. We all deserve a chance to be gainfully employed at a place that pays great money,” said Newark resident H.L. Kirby.
The mayor did have a permit to protest. What followed was a motorcade done in slow-mo, sort of a peaceful, drive-by protest.
In the end, none of the protesters actually got off the buses, and the motorcade moved smoothly through Port Newark. But Mayor Baraka says this is not the last protest, that they’ll be back until he gets what he calls job fairness.