The email from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office came in at 12:37 p.m. on January 2, barely a day and a half into the new year: “Newark’s First Homicide in 2011.” Today (after the initial posting of this story), another email noted the year’s second homicide — which actually occurred New Year’s Day in the early morning, before the previously announced one.
You expect a headline about the First Baby of the Year, but not the first homicide or two.
We at Baristanet get updates from the Breaking News Network for all of Essex County, and so just about every major car accident, fire and shooting comes in the county comes across my screen just seconds after its goes out on the police scanner. My heart sank when I thought about the mothers of those 16-year-old boys right before Christmas. And even though I might go onto the next email, I’m keeping a mental tally marks of the violence. There was a spate of murders in Newark last August, then things cooled down briefly. Mid-fall, carjackings started up like mad. And since Thanksgiving, as the website thehoodup.com said on Christmas Day, Newark has been “wild as f—.”
In November, the city of Newark announced it was laying off 167 police officers — blaming the action on the police union. On Christmas Eve, Mayor Cory Booker issued this statement:
Our city has grown too strong in recent years to allow levels of violence to increase to where they were in 2006 and before. In the face of December’s recent crime trends, we have significantly increased the deployment of police officers throughout our city. For four years we have developed strong partnerships with multiple law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels. In the face of this current crime trend we are stepping up those partnerships as various agencies are putting forth more resources and assistance. Moreover, we have also formed a special task force that includes the County Prosecutor, US Attorney, and FBI, aimed at robberies and carjackings and we are also investing significant manpower and resources at the street level into this ongoing effort. We have made some significant arrests as a result of our work and will continue to increase our enforcement, investigative, and prosecutorial work in the days and weeks ahead. Newark will not accept anything less than strength, peace and security. The city of Newark and multi-agency team will keep fighting until we achieve this for our city and her residents.
To be sure, the problem of violent crime is not strictly a Newark problem. The Star Ledger reported that homicides were up 15 percent statewide last year. There were 364 murders for the year, just one short of a murder a day. But Newark accounted for a disproportionate share and the most homicides of any single municipality: 85.
Cory Booker is an energetic leader and a brilliant user of social media, who not only personally shoveled the streets of Newark after last week’s blizzard but whose tweets about it were heard round the world.
On Sunday, he tweeted this: “Yesterday’s 1st murder of the year is a call to ALL who seek peace in our city that if we don’t change we can’t expect our city to.”
Here in Baristaville, this spate of violence is frighteningly close. There are too many great institutions in Newark, from the Newark Museum to NJPAC and the Prudential Center, to let the city become a present-day dystopia. Many of us write checks to fight disease and hunger on the other side of the world, while this mayhem and suffering takes place just down the road.
On Saturday, Chris Christie administered Joe DiVincenzo’s oath of office in a ceremony attended by Cory Booker and many other Essex County bigwigs.
According to the Star Ledger, first on DiVincenzo’s agenda for 2011 is building a $4 million boathouse with rental boats and restaurant in the Orange Reservoir.
Photos by Paul Sableman.