Newark residents, citing ’67, plead for peace as protestors march in city
NEWARK — The mayor of the state's largest city said that he was offended at suggestions that a demonstration planned for Saturday afternoon would lead to violence.
Standing on the steps of City Hall while wearing a mask and gloves, Mayor Ras Baraka said that he would be joining the march organized by the civil rights group The People's Organization for Progress, which is protesting against the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
The death of the unarmed and restrained black man by a white officer has sparked civil unrest in the Twin Cities as well as as other cities across the country.
Baraka, who is black, said the demonstration, which was to step off 1 p.m. near the Lincoln statue on Springfield Avenue, would be as peaceful as any other previous POP event in the city.
"The People's Organization for Progress have been having protests in our city for decades without incident, without issue, all of the time," Baraka said.
"The terrible thing is we have to fight two pandemics at one time," he said. "We have to fight the pandemic of coronavirus that unfortunately is killing black people. It's killing everybody but it is killing us the most. And we have to fight the pandemic of racism and white supremacy."
POP leader Larry Hamm said some people "would love to have something happen today that would take attention away from the cause for which we are marching and put it on chaos and confusion."
"It's all right to be outraged. It's all right to be angry about what happened. And I'm going to say something else: It is mentally unhealthy to repress that anger and that outrage," Hamm said. "The difference is we must take our outrage and take our anger and take our righteous indignation and turn it into energy to organize our people to fight against the forces of racism and oppression here in the United States."
Demonstrations elsewhere in New Jersey were also being planned in Englewood, Paterson and Freehold Borough.
In Minneapolis, fires and violence continued Saturday as Gov. Tim Walz said that even with the help of 500 National Guardsmen, authorities did not have enough manpower to make arrests.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, put Army police on alert in case they are needed to be mobilized. Violence on Friday night also erupted in Detroit, where a man was shot dead, as well as in Atlanta and New York City.
Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Widely circulated videos show Chauvin kneeling on the neck of a restrained Floyd for about eight minutes while bystanders pleaded with police to help him.
As word spread Friday night and Saturday morning of the Newark demonstration, some Newark residents took to social media to express concern that the situation would turn violent.
"Important note for folks NOT from Newark coming here today. This will be a PEACEFUL protest in Newark," city school board member A'Dorian Murray-Thomas said on Twitter. "Those of us who live, organize and work here will not tolerate y’all coming here exploiting or destroying a city we’ve worked so hard to rebuild. Period. #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd."
A resident wrote on the City Hall's Facebook page: "I pray they don’t come here to destroy the city. Newark don’t need them doing this here."
Many commenters, as well as the mayor, referenced the four days of deadly and fiery unrest that rocked Newark in July 1967.
Baraka, who refers to the '67 violence as the "Newark Rebellion," noted that his father, poet Amiri Baraka, participated during demonstrations in the midst of that week of chaos and was beaten by a white police officer who had once been a classmate of his.
The violence and rioting in 1967 was sparked after the brutal arrest of black cab driver John Smith, which became the subject of false rumors that he had been killed by police.
The violence and destruction in Newark was not entirely perpetrated by rioters or angry protestors, however.
To quell the rioting, Gov. Richard Hughes dispatched 3,000 National Guardsmen and 500 state troopers who "joined the local police in an orgy of violent, brutal retaliation against black citizens and businesses," according to Rutgers University scholar Robert Curvin's history in "Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion and the Search for Transformation."
After black shopkeepers hung signs in front of their stores to indicate that they were black-owned, the businesses were shot up by police who thought "it was unfair for black businesses to escape damage while white-owned businesses were being plundered," Curvin wrote.
"Law enforcement personnel had engaged in a deadly expression of white hatred, including the perverse irony of state police officers willfully damaging black-owned businesses, whose owners were the best example in the inner city of the hope of buying into the American dream."
The Governor's Select Commission on Civil Disorder, empaneled less than a month later, concluded that black residents had long been mistreated by city government and local police – and found that law enforcement's response to the unrest, particularly their use of firepower, was "out of proportion." The commission condemned the State Police and the National Guard for firing into black-owned businesses "with no possible justification."
In the end, 24 black civilians, a white firefighter and a white police officer died in the violence, which caused $10 million in damage. A grand jury declined to indict any officers for the deaths they caused, instead commending them for "courage and restraint."
Baraka said Saturday that the city is "still trying to recover economically, socially, politically" from that violence 50 years later.
His administration is battling the police union in court over a Civilian Complaint Review Board, something that advocates first called for in the 1960s but was created by Baraka through executive order in 2015.
"We don't hate all police. Every civil society has to have police. What we are saying is do your job but your job is not to be the judge and not to be the executioner," Hamm said. "The good police need to stand up and speak up against the racist police that are killing our people."
Some law enforcement officials in New Jersey, meanwhile, have expressed outrage at the death of Floyd.
The County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey on Saturday morning called the images of the death "deeply disturbing" and called on "anyone who believes they have been victimized by a member of law enforcement as a result of bias or other improper behavior" to contact their local police chief or county prosecutor.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Friday that the state "will never tolerate the types of police practices that resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death."
Grewal touted the Excellence in Policing Initiative, rolled out in December to increase accountability and transparency in investigations of police misconduct.
"Mr. Floyd’s death reminds us that our country has a long way to go not only in healing our nation’s racial divides, but also in addressing the systemic and implicit biases that prevent all Americans from equally securing our country’s great promises," Grewal said. "Now more than ever, we must redouble our commitment to building trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, especially those from historically marginalized communities."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.