The police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota horrified Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who wants police organizations to denounce the killings in no uncertain terms. A backer of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the mayor also wants the Democratic Party – anemic now in its attempts to frame issues, in his view – to strengthen its platform at the convention in Philadelphia to fight for vulnerable minorities.
Leader of New Jersey’s biggest city, Baraka routinely reminds residents that they must help police by supplying information to catch criminals. But Baraka said he needs law enforcement’s help to condemn those killings committed by their own members.
“It’s time for police, the good and righteous police officers, to stand up against this,” the mayor said. “In order to save the institutions, they are going to have to denounce this. They are going to have to say ‘this is incorrect.’ The union thing and the blue wall aside, the same way they expect community members to denounce violence and crime, they are going to have to exhibit that now. These officers must be removed or prosecuted or both. Police organizations can no longer fight civilian review boards, or else they are complicit. On a national level they must denounce.”
In horror, Baraka said he watched the video of the Minnesota killing ten times.
“When you look at the video and see and hear the police officer, you understand that that kind of fear these guys have is predicated on racism,” the mayor said. “The guy told the cop he had a concealed weapon and he was killed. Listening to the dead man’s mother trying to tell people that he was not a gang member, it’s terrible, because what it means is that we have to apologize. We have to qualify. Even if the guy was a gang member, he didn’t deserve to die that way. This man was a good citizen. He paid taxes. It’s just horrible. The other guy pinned to the ground, for them to shoot him like that, it’s barbaric. There is no excuse for this. It will incite anger and frustration. Many people have lost faith in our institutions.”
In the strictest political sense in the days leading up to the Democratic National Convention later this month, Baraka said he looked at the party platform in its current manifestation and came away utterly unimpressed.
“The platform does not speak to real issues,” he said. “Yes, there are some things in there, like the minimum wage and some economics and class issues but there are things that should be in there that are not that would go to the heart of it, including ways to address over-policing, police murders in the community and deep poverty. If those things don’t get in there, it will mean that we’re fighting for a party that is not fighting for us. Bernie’s run pushed the party farther to the left, but we are obviously still shaping the platform.”
But the party can act. Congress can act, Baraka said. Local government can take action, People can march. But the police must denounce now the killings now, he repeatedly insisted in a conversation this morning with PolitickerNJ.
Organizer of a peace mach last year that the city will again host in August of this summer, Baraka said America faces an intractable issue that has dogged the country for decades. “It’s going to take more than one action to reverse what’s happening,” he said. Son of the late poet/activist Amiri Baraka, who led a police resistance action int he late 1960’s in Newark, the mayor said he believes young people and others have effectively kept the country’s attention on activism. But he also noted that people need to better organize their activism.
“You see what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter Movement,” he said. “The young people – they’re outside the governor’s house right now in Baton Rouge. People are acting and reacting, but it’s true that the level or organization is not there the way it was in the 1960s. The organizations don’t exist the way they did, and people, while impassioned and active and, yes, effective, they’re not as connected as the organizations were 30 or 40 years ago. We need better organization, better connectivity. These other organizations beyond Black Lives Matter have not spoken to the issues that exist in our communities with the rigor require. They’re not being addressed by any national leadership, and the result is that young people are in a kind of void. Baltimore happens. Ferguson happens. New York happens. There is a response, and it’s powerful, but there is no overarching formal response, and so the impact is not felt the way it should be felt. Black Lives Matter has had some measure of success, but we need more wide scale organizing.”
In power since 2014, the Baraka Administration has made police conditioning a priority. There is a civilian in charge of internal affairs, and a Civilian Complaint Review Board – all new measures. “We’ve doubled down in a lot of ways, but the only way to ultimately affect the situation is to change the culture of policing, the superstructure that exists and that has existed,” Baraka said, “and yes, police and police leadership must take responsibility.
“I’d love to see a renewed effort for required police body cameras at the state level,” he added. “It’s a good thing to have body cameras, but body cameras, of course, are not the solution. We are going to have to change our ideas about policing.”
There are societal forces requiring deep changes, too, he said. “New Jersey is one of the most segregated states in the country, and doubly part of the issue is the school funding formula, which lends to systematic segregation not only along racial but along class lines, and we need to revisit it critically.”
Baraka will again march in August for peace, critical he said, as part of the larger cause.
“We always got to do that,” the mayor said. “We must unite people in the city who want a positive community. People see us out there and are inspired by the numbers. You want to see people who don’t support the destruction of your city. You want to tell people, ‘We are in control. The people of Newark are loving and hardworking people, who don’t want to die in these communities.’ Marching gives young people the message to continue.”