Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Help Wanted: STOP THE KILLINGS IN NEWARK NOW!
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.
"HELP WANTED," they read. "STOP THE KILLINGS IN NEWARK NOW!"
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.