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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Newark teachers' plea: Stop the killings By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J. - Advertisements by teachers unions typically feature smiling instructors leaning over fresh-faced youngsters. But a half-dozen new billboards in New Jersey's largest city offer a far darker message.


Depending on who is counting, there were either 106 or 113 people slain in Newark last year — the highest number in more than a decade. Before officials in the troubled school system can think about tackling problems inside the classroom, they have to worry about safely getting students and teachers into those classrooms, teachers union officials say.

"Some people don't like the shock, but it's a lot less shocking than stepping over a body, or looking down the barrel of a gun," Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, said of the billboards scattered downtown that were paid for by the group. "We tried more subtle ways of bringing attention to the problem, but they didn't work."

Mayor Cory Booker, who has made reducing violent crime the cornerstone of his administration since taking office in July, would not comment on the billboards.

But his spokeswoman, Lupe Todd, said in a written statement: "We are committed to reducing crime in Newark and welcome the involvement of all parties who are interested in engaging in constructive dialogue and active participation."

Del Grosso said violence in Newark makes it hard to attract and retain teachers. Since September, nearly 100 teachers have resigned or retired, many citing crime and fear for their safety, he said.

"Who's going to send their daughter or son to teach here?" he asked. "This is an epidemic. The mayor needs help, the police department needs help and we need help."

The union, which represents 5,400 teachers and support staff, recently polled its members on issues negotiators should raise during contract talks. Increasing safety and preventing violence in Newark's 83 public schools ranked second behind salary and benefits.

The city of 277,000 counted 106 homicides last year, while the Essex County Prosecutor's Office put the total at 113, including bodies found in county parks within city limits and people who weren't necessarily killed in Newark even though their bodies were found there.

Those who commute into the city 10 miles west of Manhattan can't help but see the billboards while stuck in rush-hour traffic. Some say that reinforces the negative image of a city that is already poorly regarded by suburbanites.

But others say acknowledging the reality of the city's streets is necessary.

"People need to know what's going on in Newark," Love Brookins said Thursday as she waited for a bus across the street from one of the billboards. "It is dangerous here. Where I live, that's all there is — killing."

James Caines also supports the signs, regardless of how they may look to out-of-towners.

"We need to stop the young people from killing each other," he said. "We're losing an entire generation here, and we need all the help we can get. I don't care where it comes from."

After the billboards went up last week, Del Grosso said he spoke with Booker's staff, which made its displeasure clear.

"Maybe these billboards aren't the solution, but at least it's calling attention to the need for a solution," Del Grosso said.


JimMollo said...

I work in Newark. I love this city. Who can say that? There is the shoe repairman on Academy St. (and his attiude) who looks like he's been in that shop for 100 years, unbelievable Portugese restaurants, NJPAC, and people ready to smile back on the street.

Unfortunately, the shrines pictured are becoming more and more commonplace. They snap me back to the reality of the violence that the people of Newark live with every day. I pass three of them on my way home. They are painful reminders of what I take for granted and what others long for... safety for their families.

Bill said...

There’s no quick fix for something like this. But, you have to stop it before it becomes another Camden. You can’t turn it into a police state, that just backfires on you. You really have to fix this at the root cause. Hopelessness breeds apathy, despair and violence. If you have no hope, and nothing to live for, who cares if you die. We have to find a way to give the youth a reason to live, a reason to hope. We have to find a way for them to break out of this cycle of violence and death.

People tend to get side-tracked in looking for one grand fix-it-all plan. We’re going to throw a switch and everything will be ok. We’ll put more cops on the street. So what, the kids will just find another street. We’ll pour more money into the schools. It won’t help, the kids don’t see a future in schools.

The signs may be a good thing. If this is going to work at all, it has to be a “grass roots effort” (how’s that for a name). Every mom and dad and aunt and uncle have to become involved. Every priest, minister and rabbi, need to go all out. This requires a full-court press or it will never work.

I don’t have the answers but if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that there usually is an answer. All we have to do is find it. These kids need a reason. We have to build self-esteem. They need to be told that they are worth something, that people care and that people will help them if only they give it a shot.

Ok, let me get down off the soap-box now, without tripping.

Jim said...

Inner cities have always been violent places. What has changed is that now the people in them are not able to see a way out. Here in the midwest, folks in NW Indiana used to refer to "the ladder." The ladder is what your family climed when it started at the least skilled jobs in the steel mills but saw grandsons who became plant foremen, engineers, school teachers and the like.

My great grandfather did that in one generation, he started as as "sweeper" about the lowest gig there was in a mill, and ended up the founding mayor of East Chicago, Ind. He would tell you if he were here, he was lucky and the ladder was there for him.

No one needs sweepers now. The manual jobs are in the far East. Where that old gypsy ancestor of mine looking to get out of poverty in Indianna today, there is no ladder to climb.

I am not suggesting we need to bring back that sort of work. What we need to do is find an analog for the ladder. A way that an inner city mom can get a job, provide at least a de minimus level of decent living and tell her children, convincingly, that they can do better.

For openers, how about TEC committing to invest its available cash funds in CMA's that are orriented towards bringing real jobs and real opportunities into the cities? Not the pension money, that has its own board and imperatives. But huge amounts of cash pass through the church. If we, the Presby's, Methodists and Lutherans simply said our CMA accounts must be orriented towards inner city opportunities, a lot of business would find a way to become inner city opportunities.