NEWARK – South Ward councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka defended his decision to write letters used to request leniency for one of the city’s most infamous gang leaders.
Court papers indicate that Baraka wrote the letters on behalf of convicted gang leader Al-Tariq Gumbs at his sentencing in 2010. Baraka wrote that Gumbs could serve as “an asset to our community” in resolving gang-related conflicts that result in homicides and shootings in New Jersey’s largest city. Baraka also claims that he was unaware that the letters would be included in motions requesting leniency for Gumbs, the alleged founder of the Brick City Brims set of the Bloods street gang.
“I definitely stand by it,” Baraka told PolitickerNJ.com on Tuesday. “Al-Tariq Gumbs helped us organize the first peace treaty in Newark [in 2004] where we had 250 gang members commit to putting their guns down. He wrote a book on how to keep their kids out of gangs. I’m a principal, an educator, a community activist and an elected official. My job is to transform peoples’ lives in the community. The police and the courts lock people up. We wrote a character letter to help explain what he did for us in the community. And I’ll write it again.”
But Anibal Ramos, Jr., the North Ward councilman and mayoral candidate, disagreed with Baraka’s continued support for Gumbs.
“The citizens of Newark need to know why one of their elected officials is vouching for a convicted gang leader who was clearly not rehabilitated despite spending years in prison,” Ramos said. “It’s one thing to help a model prisoner who reformed their ways while incarcerated, but it’s an entirely different matter to vouch for someone who showed no sign that he had been rehabilitated or that he would be an asset to the community.”
Mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, who previously served as state Assistant Attorney General, referred to his law enforcement background when assessing Baraka’s letter-writing on behalf of Gumbs.
“I believe deeply in the power of rehabilitation, however, I also believe deeply in the power of punishment for those who are committed to murders, conspiracy to commit murders and selling large amounts of drugs in our communities,” Jeffries said, who noted that he oversaw state law enforcement initiatives that led to a 26 percent reduction in recidivism for ex-offenders. “Those who want to apologize for those who want to murder people in our communities frankly have no place in leadership in our communities.”
Baraka, however, remained unrepentant about his backing of Gumbs.
“We need help from people who are trying to help us stop the killing in this city. These kids don’t look up to politicians, police officers, doctors, lawyers – they don’t see these people in the community. They look up to these people who are causing havoc and mayhem in our neighborhoods. And when these people get caught, it gives us an opportunity to get them to help us stop other kids from going down that path. Obviously, we need some help.”