NEWARK – A former president of the same Newark-based Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) chapter that endorsed Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka last month lashed out in an open letter on Monday, calling the South Ward councilman “part of the problem” in Newark’s war on crime.
The letter by Derrick Hatcher, the former president of FOP Lodge #12, was issued by Newark First, an independent expenditure group that supports Baraka’s rival in the race, former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries. Addressed to members of the law enforcement community, Hatcher assails Baraka’s record on crime as “troubling” and “dangerous.”
“As a vice principal [at Newark’s Weequahic High School], Mr. Baraka allowed gang-related activities to exist in our schools,” Hatcher writes in the letter, referring to Baraka’s educational career. He is currently on leave as principal of Newark’s Central High School. “As a council member, he wrote letters to request leniency in criminal proceedings for some of Newark’s most notorious gang leaders. And as mayor, Baraka has vowed to give gang members a seat at the table as part of his public safety plan.”
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 in January. “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.”
Hatcher, who was FOP Lodge #12 president from 2004 to 2012, continued to attack Baraka’s public safety record in the letter.
“In addition to his dangerous record on gangs, Baraka has turned his back against the men and women who have fought to protect our city,” Hatcher writes. “Baraka has repeatedly stated that he does not believe Newark needs more police officers to reduce violent crime.
“We cannot afford to turn over the keys to Mr. Baraka and let Newark descend into lawlessness,” Hatcher concludes, explaining why he is backing Jeffries for mayor instead of Baraka in the May 13 municipal election.
The FOP Lodge #12 endorsed Baraka last month. James Stewart, the president of FOP Lodge #12 who confirmed the endorsement with PolitickerNJ.com, could not be reached because he is on vacation until next week.
The Baraka campaign turned to state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) for a response.
A former Newark Police detective, Rice has a Master’s Degree in criminal justice. “And I write laws every day,” he said. “In fact, some of the laws came from Ras when he worked with me as a councilman. Derrick Hatcher’s stuff is probably personal but I’m a former police officer too. Police officer jobs are to enforce the laws. For a former police officer like Derrick not to recognize that as an educator Ras works with young people every day, and how commendable that is on Baraka’s part, is strange. This whole notion too of Shavar’s that he was an assistant attorney general, I see it on his campaign literature – it’s very misleading. He was special counsel to the attorney general.
“I take the word of James Stewart, the current FOP president, who endorsed Ras,” Rice added. “He was right, not Derrick Hatcher.”
Walter E. Melvin, Jr., 1st Vice President of FOP Lodge #12, likewise released a response.
“FOP Lodge 12 has endorsed Ras Baraka because we believe that he is the best qualified to support the police in reducing crime and improving the conditions under which the police work in Newark,” said Melvin. “Ras Barka has a strategy to reduce gang violence that has proven successful in Boston, MA, Compton, CA, and other major cities. It is a strategy that the US Dept. of Justice recommends. It is a strategy the involves communicating with gangs and letting them know that all of the city, county, state and federal resources of law enforcement will be unleashed against them if they continue the violence. But if they put their guns down they will get help in building a better and legal life for themselves.
“In order to be part of the solution, you must engage the community in a positive manner,” he added. “In addition, Ras Baraka voted against police layoffs and as a principal of Central HS, he succeeded in getting gangs out of the school. Ras Baraka has spoken out repeatedly and strongly in favor of getting more police in Newark. We believe that if anyone can win the fight to hire more police, it is Ras Baraka. The personal opinion of Derrick Hatcher is demeaning to the men and women of our lodge who used the same democratic process that he himself used for years. As South Ward Councilman, Ras Baraka has been extremely supportive of the men and women of our department. Bringing up an incident that took place at a demonstration more than twenty years ago and charges from which Ras Baraka found totally innocent shows how far his political enemies will go to distort the truth. I believe it to be in poor taste that our former President would use this forum to undermine an entity which he knows used a democratic process in order to come to the decision to endorse the best candidate for Mayor of Newark. I believe it to be surprising that during the discussion and vote of possible endorsement that Mr. Hatcher was silent on any and all of these issues.”