The old rivalries endure in neighborhoods broken in half by an atmosphere of drugs and dread.
In Newark, the Bloods hold turf in the south ward and the Crips control much of the west. The Latin Kings take up the slack in parts of the north. In the smaller towns around Newark the gangs split their fiefdoms along municipal boundaries. The Crips are dominant in Linden, while the Bloods hold sway in Roselle.
With the arrest last week of Jose Carranza of Peru and two Latino minors, held in the execution-style killing of three Newark college students, MS-13, the gang with roots in El Salvador and ties on the West Coast, again came to the fore – at least on the street – as a prime organizational suspect.
Theneighborhood operators out there knew the gang wasn’t finished in Jersey when federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) arrested several suspected members in Morristown earlier this summer.
MS-13 is not known to be dominant in Newark. But ongoing investigations and the likelihood that it’s spilled over into the city creates an opportunity not only for disparate forces within Newark to unite, but for the irreconcilable strains of city and suburb to come together and forge a common front.
An underlying outrage already exists.
For months it’s been building, and Newarkers’ anguish over the killings of Terrance Aeriel, Deshawn Harvey and Ofemi Hightower on Aug. 6th intensified political pressure on state law enforcement agencies to partner with police, local community outreach groups, politicians, churches and schools. All week, elected officials called or met with the state’s new Attorney General Anne Milgram to examine ways of improving intelligence and witness protection.
The state’s new top cop came to the job ready to tackle the crisis of gangs and gang violence.
In her confirmation hearing before the state Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21st, Gov. Jon Corzine’s choice for Attorney General cited the three areas she would focus on if confirmed: combating gang violence, protecting consumers from fraud, and ensuring homeland security – in that order. On that day in the Statehouse, in response to a question from state Sen. John Girgenti, Milgram said the state police would take the lead in intelligence gathering, and continue to undertake large-scale investigations into gang violence.
Newark officials are heartened.
But however wide-ranging, however vigilant, the state’s resources are limited, says District 28 Assemblyman Craig Stanley, who in the early days of summer implored New Jersey to partner with other states to stop the influx of bad elements.
"We don’t manufacture guns and drugs in Newark," said Stanley, who, later, after the killings in Ivy Hill reiterated his commitment to building across-the-border alliances.
Whatever his misgivings about combating illegal immigration – according to Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello – however limited his resources in that regard, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has been consistently outspoken about gangs – and the need for communities to unite and fight them.
At a forum in Middletown sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos in late spring, the U.S. Attorney noted that gang-related crime in the state is on the rise. Christie said a year 2000 survey identified 7,000 gang members in New Jersey. In 2005, that number had risen to 17,500.
"That number has continued to grow exponentially," said Christie. "There is an army in our state, which is selling drugs and killing our people all for profit and personal aggrandizement."
The way people can fight gangs, said Christie, is the same way they must fight political corruption. They need to get engaged in the body politic.
At this point, voters no longer have the luxury of disengagement, Christie said. They cannot expect a U.S. Attorney, 16 lawyers and 24 FBI agents to police 566 municipalities, 21 counties, 612 school boards and a state budget totaling $33 billion.
"We cannot do it," said Christie. "We cannot physically do it."
Today, standing in his adopted hometown where the killings Newark Mayor Cory Booker said the city’s Newark Community Foundation would be installing security cameras and audio gunshot-detection machines throughout the city. The$3.2 millioninitiative will add 50 additional police surveillance cameras to the already existing 32 cameras on the city’s streets. "The acoustic sensors will be able to detect and pinpoint the source of gunfire over a seven square-mile area of the city that has suffered 80 percent of the gun violence since January 2005," according to the Mayor's Office.
Meanwhile, the quiet work of community organizers continued.
Members of the Street Warriors, a community action group in Newark, again went into the housing complexes they frequent Tuesday and Thursday.
"From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. we engage the young people," said one of the group’s mentors, Abdul Muhammed. "We have basketball and boxing classes. We teach young people how to dress and talk, how to make a good impression when going on a job interview."
Muhammed, 28, knows that world he now fights. Ten years ago he says he accidently shot and killed his brother. He did time. Now he and the other founders of Street Warriors want to instruct youth in alternatives to gangs.
"We all met each other in prison, and when we got out we wanted to do something positive for the community," said Muhammed.
They say it over and over again, those like Muhammed who work the neighborhoods. The state can only do so much. The city can only install so many cameras. The gang is an alternative to a family that doesn’t exist or that is so broken the young people take refuge in the streets.
"We serve 250 families a year by offering them a safe haven from crisis," said Ruth Kleiman, director of Babyland Family Services in Newark. "Domestic violence has increased, not only among the ranks of U.S. citizens but among the immigrant population. What we’re seeing more and more of are male green card carriers keeping undocumented females under their control; using their legal status as another tool for power and control."
Father Edwin Leahy, headmaster of St. Benedict’s Preparatory Academy on Martin Luther King Boulevard, said the fact that three young people were in college gets the attention of the media but everywhere, in every neighborhood, every house or apartment, park or street, whatever the social or ethnic background, a community’s bitter demand remains: "Nobody should get killed."