By David Cruz
The daily thrust and parry between police and suspects went on as usual today in the city of Newark after two weeks of violence and crime that, even by Newark standards, have left residents shaken and out of breath.
In the last week alone, three car chases left a carjack suspect dead and three bystanders injured. And then the shooting deaths. Wednesday: Maple and Chancellor, near Weequahic High. Last week, during the so-called 24 hours of peace, 6th Avenue and 11th street, Jones Street and Springfield Ave. On August 20th, Ivy Hill Park and on August 19 three more fatal shootings, in the west, south and east wards and one – the day before – on south 11th street.
“It terrifies me because my kids have to walk to and from school every day,” said Veronica Branch.
On the corner of Hawthorne and Demarest, ladies passed out copies of the Watchtower and talked about the carjacking and chase that left a young man dead on the street here this week.
“That concerns me,” continued Branch. “That concerns me not only for my children, but for other children that are attend here. We’re not going to have police escorts out here all the time for these kids. We have some police out here today, but the reality is that they’re not going to be here every day.”
In response to the recent spike in violence the city has redeployed over 100 cops, and this week promised that 250 new officers will be on the streets by this time next year. That’s positive news for a force that was devastated by 100 plus layoff a few years ago, but that 250 number won’t mean a net of 250 cops.
“You talk about the numbers in the coming years, those 250 police officers that come in; we still have attrition,” warned Lieutenant Gary Vickers, a vice president with the Newark Police Superior Officers Association. “We still have police officers that have been on for some time, like myself, and other officers that will soon be leaving the police department. You also have police officers who are out long-term sick and other things, so those numbers will kind of go back and forth.”
Activist Donna Jackson monitors her police scanner all day long. She’s been at scores of crime scenes and seen her fill of lifeless bodies on city streets, including this week.
“The vetting process for an officer – as much as I would love to have it happen tomorrow – I would love to say, ‘hey, 250 are going to be on the road by December,’ but it’s not going to happen,” she said. “The vetting process will not probably start until December.”
In fact, a lot of things would have to go right – and the city is presuming cooperation from a number of jurisdictions – to meet that goal. The police director was unavailable to talk to us today and the mayor has ignored repeated requests for an interview. The mayor’s silence has some wondering if he’s in retreat, hoping that Occupy the Block and 24 hours of peace will help inspire change in the face of the relentless violence.
“Having an Occupy the Block and the city, yeah, I applaud the mayor’s efforts in what he’s trying to bring about for the community, but that is not going to help with these kids right now,” added Branch. “We need some real programs, some real resources to try to help reach these kids.”
Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins has seen the crime rate rise and dip in this city over her lifetime here. She says “Help is on the way; hang in there, but we also have to take back our city. We also have to be able to communicate with our neighbors. When people say that Occupy the Block wasn’t [effective], or 24 hours of peace. Listen, it has to start somewhere. We have to do something.”
Police officials say the start of the new school year and cooler weather will put a chill on this long, hot summer. But until reinforcements arrive, residents are left to hope that things will get better because, in a lot ways, they can’t get any worse.