Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Get Involved

Keeping residents safe must be a top priority for any civilized community of people. But it is important to understand that getting violent crime under control requires activity on many different fronts at the same time. Social and economic issues have contributed to a deeply ingrained drug and gun driven street culture that has begun to take residents hostage. No community that seeks to be great can accept such a reality. It will take a robust, comprehensive, multifaceted approach to change the drug and gun bred culture that fuels senseless street violence.

Out of control children roam and control many of our neighborhoods while adults stand by helplessly wringing our hands. If there ever was a time for the sober members of our community to put aside petty quarrels and lock arms in a fight for survival now is that time. We may choose to deny it, but the lessons of discord that we are now reaping were, in large part, sown by our own incompetence, bad behavior and neglect of our children.

Gathering a community consensus on how the people must/should approach violent crime will require a coalescence of thought and action. In order to achieve this, Newark’s community leadership will be required to demonstrate a new level of maturity and willingness to work together. If we fail, we can chalk it all up and consign our future to subservience.

Law enforcement agencies are set to use more force. Indeed, Essex County Sheriff Fontura is openly discussing suspending civil liberties. And soon, we fear, a majority of citizens will support that view. Left unattended, we can envision a day when residents are urging cops to take whatever measures necessary, no matter how violent or abusive, to shut down violent criminals. Even now, many are willing to sacrifice a measure of liberty to receive a measure of security. We believe this would be a step backward from which we might never recover. What’s needed right now is a citizen rebellion against violent crime and criminals. We must have a community plan supported by a consensus. Otherwise, individuals will resort to any and all methods to secure their safety and protect their interests.

As quickly as we identify aspects of community life that nourish an environment of crime, strategies to counter their impact must be designed and implemented. A community mechanism with this purpose has to be established. Citizens usually rely upon law enforcement to keep us safe. But even the round-the-clock hard work and unsung successes of nameless police officers have not yet provided a permanent solution. The violence that rocked Newark over the past week makes it clear that real relief from urban terror is likely to remain beyond our reach until more elements of our community become completely outraged and thoroughly engaged.

Reducing and eradicating violent crime requires a process and network of partnerships among government agencies, citizen groups and individuals dedicated to an uncompromising view of personal safety. While police must form the backbone of any crime fighting collaboration, they cannot succeed alone. Residents must step up and shed the fear that criminals have imposed on an entire community. We must become active in the defense of our communities and ourselves.

It is pointless to quibble over how much progress is being made when the fear and violence index is as high as it now is. Let’s concede that progress is being made. But it is hardly enough. Considerable work still remains to unravel years of neglect and broken systems and will not be easy. Even so, it must be tackled with unbridled energy, passion and discipline. Improving statistics notwithstanding our humanity instructs us that even a single death prompted by a malicious act must never be acceptable or tolerated. While the Booker administration seeks to stabilize the periodic surges in violent crime, the results to date are confounding. Compared to last year, shootings are down but murders are constant. It is reasonable to argue that consistency of action and purpose must be maintained long enough to allow the current law enforcement strategies to firmly take hold. It is entirely reasonable that more time is needed.

There is no way for residents to be patient with violent crime, yet those charged with day-to-day crime fighting responsibility must demonstrate patience in the implementation of complex strategies to combat it. To do otherwise would likely spawn an erratic reaction to every act of violence. An effective blow against crime, though, must include an attack on unemployment, poor schools, inadequate housing and hopelessness.

We expect government to provide effective leadership in reducing lawless violence. We also urge the community to immediately quit the sidelines and join the struggle to renew the spirit of our city by declaring through bold action that safety and an improved quality of life are the rightful demand of all Newarkers.

Our city is truly at a crossroads, there is little room for compromise and the road to improvement will be rocky—and in this moment, no truly concerned citizen can afford to stand aside. Get involved.

August 8, 2007

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