NEWARK – Grassroots political leader Ras Baraka stood on these steps a year ago when he won the mayor’s race and proceeded to “swear in” those community members who backed him, and now Baraka wants to remind residents that a people power mayoralty means that people themselves must assume the command position in the fight against violence.
This is not the mayor alone at the vanguard. This is Newark in community leadership crisis mode.
“This is not the mayor’s problem, it’s our problem,” said Baraka, who cited a public health crisis in Newark and other cities like it nationwide.
Seventeen Newarkers died this summer at the hands of violence. Over 100 people died last year as victims of violent crime in Newark.
“If there were 100 kids in Millburn killed, people would think there was a public health crisis,” said the mayor. But not in Newark. He wants to change that perception and he wants his constituents to assume control.
To that end, Baraka summoned Newarkers to join him and celebrated rapper Common on Saturday for an anti-violence “Occupy the City” walk and rally that will originate in all five wards and converge downtown at the city’s historic Four Corners at Broad and Market streets.
“We want to get as many people out on the streets to oppose the violence,” said Baraka. “We’re opposed to it. We’re not in cahoots with it. These are Newark families opposed to the violence going on in the community. We want to make a loud noise against it. We’re not just sitting here helpless with our arms crossed. We’re going to organize on blocks around the city to speak out loudly about the violence going on.”
The mayor spelled out the specifics of the law enforcement component of his larger anti-violence combat plan at a press conference last week in the South Ward. His efforts followed his participation in the tail end of an anti-police brutality march and rally organized two weeks ago in Newark by People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm. But he doesn’t want people to get complacent in the belief that law enforcement alone needs to step up its game. That’s why in conjunction with his efforts to pull in more resources for Newark he wants stepped up neighborhood action, he said.
“Somebody’s got to say something about it,” said Baraka.
As he prepares for Saturday’s march, the mayor also met earlier today with Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
“They’ve been extremely cooperative,” he said. “We will have 150 officers on the streets next year. We will be able to put the numbers of officers on the streets that we need, while also pursuing the opening of our own police academy.”
The peace march comes as the Baraka Administration continues to engage community members who perhaps had certain expectations of the grassroots leader who toppled a statewide Democratic machine to win City Hall. Shortly before the mayor spoke, a man approached one of the members of the mayor’s administration and gave him an expectant look.
“Work,” the man said.
The Baraka Team member told the man that he needed to go home, get changed and make himself presentable before coming to City Hall to demand that the administration assume a role in finding him a job.