By Brenda Flanagan
Light bars flashing, 26 new Ford Explorers and 10 new unmarked police cars sat parked in front of City Hall, concrete evidence of Newark’s stated resolve to stop the murder epidemic that claimed 111 lives last year.
“We’re gonna have to put boots on the ground and cars that will meet the rubber on the road,” said Newark Mayor Luis Quintana.
To that end, Quintana also promised to hire 100 new police officers funded by the city and beef up a department that’s lost 300 cops to layoffs and attrition since 2011. After scheduled retirements, it’ll add up to 50 extra officers on the street.
“This is comforting news to me,” said Newark resident Angel Staton. “It means there’s more people to patrol, quicker reaction when someone calls. We don’t have to wait so long. You don’t have to wait til the violence ends. We can prevent it more. I’m excited about it. I’m happy about the news.”
Newark took close to 800 guns off the street last year in buybacks, but will soon launch a 24/7 program to buy guns whenever a resident turns one in. This, after the Christmas murders where a 13-year-old and another teen died — allegedly shot by a 15-year-old.
“How could he get a hold of that weapon without someone knowing he had access to that weapon? Someone had to know that and there are people out there who know folks who have access to guns. I’m calling on anyone that has that kind of knowledge to give us a call,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.
“When you see the culture today, that most of the conflicts today are resolved with gun violence because of the accessibility of guns in our community, which is alarming. You wonder how can a 15-year-old get access to a gun made in Russia?” asked Sharif Amenhotep of Newark Anti-Violence Coalition.
“What’s driving the gun violence? What causes it? Guns. Pretty simple, right? We know the guns don’t come from Newark. We know there’s a pipeline and it’s a simple process to stop. We need consistent fed gun laws that are as tough as the gun laws here in New Jersey,” said Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio.
The police director says he plans to start border patrols with neighboring towns, and wants small-group counseling in the schools, to address the gun culture.
Resident Yvonne Garrett Moore claims, “We have a breakdown in relationships in our city. We have a breakdown in families in our city. Our government has got to get a handle on helping to retool, restrengthen the families in our community. That’s what it’s gonna take.”
Even if Newark puts a cop on every corner and deploys its armada of new SUVs down the street, local activists say Newark’s Still got a long way to go on the road to redemption.