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Newark's leaders are starting to talk sense -- maybe big time.

Submitted by David Borden on
Early this year we criticized Newark, New Jersey's new mayor, Cory Booker, and the city's police director, Garry McCarthy, for a law enforcement-focused response to the city's drug trade problem, the formation of a new narcotics task force. I actually say "we criticized" in the literal sense, as we appear to have three pieces on the topic -- a Chronicle article by Phil, a blog post by Scott, and an editorial by myself -- all published on the same day: (Chronicle article) (blog post) (editorial)
Booker did say some good things at the time:
"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."
But as I pointed out in my editorial:
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?
An article by Tom Moran in the Newark Star-Ledger this weekend has some very interesting comments from both McCarthy and Booker. McCarthy points out the city's homicide rate -- 105 last year -- is the highest in over a decade, even though every other kind of crime has really dropped off. McCarthy is "perplexed," he told Moran. Booker's talk was pretty tough, but it was the kind of tough talk that we like here:
"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."
According to Moran, Booker likened heavy jail terms and unforgiving policies toward those who have been released to an economic genocide against African American men in his city that is giving Newark's crime wave thousands of new recruits. He wants to state's mandatory minimums to go, at least in their current form -- New Jersey's drug laws are harsh -- and he says that he's ready to fight it out:
"I'm going to battle on this," the mayor says. "We're going to start doing it the gentlemanly way. And then we're going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd. "I'm talking about marches. I'm talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I'm talking about whatever it takes."
Let's hope he means it -- kudos in any case for saying such things. In the meanwhile, though, I do have a few questions:
  1. Is the narcotics task force he talked about in January operating, and if so, what exactly is it doing?
  2. Is the city doing everything it can to prevent these young men from ending up in the clutches of the state's harsh sentencing regime -- through policing prioritization, prosecutorial discretion, etc.?
  3. What about ending prohibition? It's not just that people are angry and hopeless, it's also the money in the illegal drug trade that is getting so many people recruited into lives of crime and paying them to stay there. Only legalization can break that link.
Check out the article, there's lot's more good stuff there. When you're done, send the Star-Ledger a letter to the editor. Congratulations to Mr. Moran for authoring such an important and insightful report.

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