Editorial: Newark Deserves Better From Its Leaders

Submitted by David Borden on (Issue #468)
Consequences of Prohibition

In a move reminiscent of Mexico's repeat struggles with the drug trade -- every so often an entire police agency gets disbanded (because it's been too corrupted -- Tijuana just last week) and then reconstituted (to contend with a crisis of crime and violence) -- the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, announced that the city has created a new narcotics unit in an effort to reduce the city's homicide rate.

[inline:borden12.jpg align=right caption="David Borden"]The announcement came a day after two teenagers were killed in a gun battle in a Newark housing project, according to an article Tuesday in the New York Times. In another sign that the nationwide drop in violence of recent years may be reversing, 2006 saw Newark's homicide rate reach its highest level in a decade -- 104 murders -- and the shootings of the two youths over the weekend were the fourth and fifth already this year.

Mayor Cory Booker expressed compassion for the victims, despite their participation in violence that led to it: "These men are not saints who have died, but they are our sons... Take away my tie, take away my suit, and about 10 years, and I fit that description: young black men dying in our city at rates that are unacceptable."

My question for the mayor is about the nature of the response. If the people doing the fighting are members of our collective family, to be rescued where possible from a negative environment that has lured them into a criminal lifestyle, why is the centerpiece of the new effort a law enforcement campaign that can only end with the long-term incarceration of many of "our sons"? Youthful confusion and feelings of desperation don't magically end after 17 years and 365 days, and New Jersey's drug laws for adults are harsh, as are federal drug laws. How many of "our sons" will end up in prison for long periods of time, sent there because of this new program?

Another telling comment came from Police Director Garry McCarthy, who according to the article explained that Newark had gone without a special narcotics unit for years because of fears that such work would corrupt the investigators. He went on to explain some safeguard measures they are putting in place to prevent this. I'm skeptical -- there's an awful lot of money involved in the drug trade, and as Drug War Chronicle readers know, reports of police corruption from around the nation abound every week. It's awfully hard to avoid it -- remember Mexico.

Further words of caution came from John Jay College of Criminal Justice sociologist Peter Moskos, who witnessed similar efforts during his time as a police officer in Baltimore. "No one has figured out a way for police to hold a neighborhood," he told the Times. I'd add to that, if they do, for even a very short time, shouldn't we just expect the profitable drug trade to move to a different neighborhood? There aren't enough troops (oops, police) to monitor every street corner throughout the city, and there never will be.

Moskos pointed out that "[w]hen narcotics squads bust into your house, it's not a pleasant experience." But McCarthy promises to treat the anti-drug fight as a "ground war" -- a sign that Newark's already beleaguered urban poor should expect more doors to be battered in on them. McCarthy and Booker should bear in mind the recent Atlanta and New York tragedies (killings of unarmed people by police that have prompted widespread outrage) before they tell their troops (oops, police, why do I keep doing that?) to fight a "ground war" that can only lead to more such carnage.

Forming a task force or division is a good way, politically at least, to be able to claim that you're doing something about the problem. But that doesn't justify ignoring overwhelming evidence, amassed over decades, that the strategy won't work, and that the reason it won't work is that it can't. Newark deserves better from its leaders than this.

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Anonymous (not verified)

When was the last time these moral monkeys had an original idea, read a history book, or paid the consequences for their misguided and often criminal militant actions?

The mayor should be ashamed of his myopic, if not unexpected, response... which will lead directly to more criminal conduct, intentional & unintentional, by those swarn to protect us!

I applaud your peaceful efforts and those of other marijuana reform groups, but, at the end of the day liberty remains an individual responsibility!

I for one will use whatever force is necesary to protect my life, liberty, legally aquired property & happiness.. from all criminals... regardless of uniform, title, or moral authority!

Don't Tread on Me!
Detlef A. Dilbeck

Fri, 01/12/2007 - 2:00pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

New Jersey residents as well as the rest of us should be worried when we hear any reference to a "War" on something. What that means is that the powers that be have given up on thinking and have resorted to violence. When was the last "war" that you remember us winning?

Sat, 01/13/2007 - 10:29am Permalink

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