LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Tensions Rise in Jersey City Following Death of Rookie Cop

By David Cruz
Correspondent

Mayor Steven Fulop was still talking tough today, ignoring criticism that his administration had been heavy-handed in taking down a street memorial to the man alleged to have shot police officer Melvin Santiago this week, an incident that has become national news.

“I don’t regret at all taking down the memorial. I know that some people who say they have a right to express it and may have a difference of opinion. To me, he’s a cop killer. He was wanted for another homicide. It was a cowardly act. It’s not somebody that the city should be memorializing. I have the privilege of being the mayor today; that was my opinion and I asked the DPW workers to take it down,” Fulop said.

Around the Hub, a modest strip mall and public plaza on Martin Luther King Drive, crime is an everyday occurrence. Residents here — just a few blocks from Sunday’s shooting — say they lament the loss of a police officer, especially a 23-year-old, but they also resent the lack of attention in the wake of several other shootings in the area. Jersey Journal Columnist Earl Morgan wrote about the resentment in his column today.

“Since this officer’s been shot, it’s become a national issue. We have had a 12-year-old shot coming home from school. We’ve had three women shot. We’ve had people shot by mistaken identity. We’ve had many, many people shot. None of them have rated more than a couple of graphs in the Jersey Journal and then they faded from site,” Morgan said.

There is tension here. More than normal, say residents. But it’s not, as some have suggested, a powder keg. Since the shooting, rumors of an imminent gang retaliation against cops have spread quickly. The public safety director said the rumors were just that — rumors, fueled by social media and other outlets.

“Those warnings, as the mayor said, the unsubstantiated threats that come in, 99.9 percent of which wash out, we still post to the police officers, so they know they came in. They know to take it for what it’s worth. The problem here is that it was sent out over social media to people who don’t have that context,” said Jersey City Public Safety Director Jim Shea.

“Being that a cop got shot, it makes it more intense. What’s fair is fair. All the guns need to be off the street, whether they’re in the boy’s hand or a cop’s hand,” said Jersey City resident Deirdre Highsmith.

You can blame police tactics or juvenile delinquency or the school system or absentee parents, but many young people in this neighborhood — even so-called good kids — have already made up their minds about the police.

“I don’t really like the police,” said Jahsim Banks. “Because I don’t really like them. I don’t &%^$ with the police.” Banks said he doesn’t trust the police, “Because. They killed my cousin. Since I was young I never liked the police.”

In a community with few recreation options, and even fewer job opportunities, there are voices crying out for help, even as they seem to push away those who might be able to help them.

Catch up on the entire “Crime In Our Cities” series