Led by Rapper-activist-actor Common joined Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the Newark Municipal Council and actor-rapper-activist Common, thousands of Newark residents united to “Occupy the City” on Saturday, August 8, meeting at a designated location in each of Newark’s five wards at 3:30 pm and marching to the City’s historic downtown “Four Corners” at Broad and Market Streets for a huge anti-violence and community support rally.
Building on the success and support from Newark residents during his “Occupy the Block events, Mayor Baraka hosted the “Occupy the City” event to unite residents against despair, violence, and crime in Newark and to promote love, hope and empowerment. “Occupy the Block” is a community engagement tool modeled after the historic “Occupy” movement, which advocates the social disruption of harmful or ineffective social constructs. Marchers wore purple t-shirts specially made for the occasion.
The Mayor called upon residents to take action against violence in their neighborhoods by reporting incidents of crime to the police, organizing themselves and their neighbors as communities and providing hands-on nurturing and mentoring to children, beginning in their own homes and neighborhoods.
“We need peace in our community. We need it now. No more silence! Stop the violence,” the Mayor urged. “It’s not enough to be on Twitter and Facebook cursing people out. You have to get out into the street and stop blaming people. How many kids have you talked to? How many kids have you mentored? How many organizations have you joined? What are you doing? Have you gone into your schools? Have you joined the PTA? Have you gone to School Board meetings?”
“Our kids should not have Chinese-made assault rifles. It’s easier to get a Chinese-made assault rifle in our community than a decent loaf of bread. Our children should not lie on our streets, dying in pool of their own blood, from bullets from a foreign-made assault rifle. Our children should not have to lie on the floor to avoid the bullets. Our children deserve to live in a safe neighborhood and grow up to be surgeons and doctors and Supreme Court justices,” he asserted.
The Mayor also spoke directly to parents and guardians of children in attendance. “Do you talk to the child in your kitchen? Do you talk to the child in your living room? Do you talk to the child on your corner, wearing his pants down and a white t-shirt? You should be talking to him.
“These kids who are committing crimes are babies, 14 and 15 years old. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t vote, they don’t run this city, and they don’t bring jobs to community. They don’t decide who is the Superintendent of Schools or who the mayor is. So how are they in charge of your house, building, street, and block? You are the adults! You have to stand up straight.”
Mayor Baraka called upon parents to set examples by using culture as a positive force, noting that while many parents use social media to complain about conditions in Newark, their neglected children are misbehaving and listening to music that preaches violence and destruction.
“Turn off that radio,” Mayor Baraka exhorted repeatedly. “They listen to songs that say ‘I got high last night’ and ‘murder, murder, murder.’ We need music that is positive. Teach your babies to sing positive songs at age 8, 9 and 10. We want them to sing at age 10, ‘I am beautiful on purpose and outstanding.’ Not, I’m going to shoot some dude on the corner. Put on songs that make babies love each other and make kids think they are big strong and powerful. Put on songs that say we can do anything we want to do and that we should love each other. If you don’t have one, I’ll give you my playlist. Listen to that in your house instead of complaining on Facebook about where are police at. They should be in your living room. Take responsibility. Culture is a weapon. It can be for us or against us. It is for us and kept us as a people from slave shouts to gospel, jazz to blues. The music that is going on is aiding in death and destruction of own children.”
The Mayor also addressed pain the community experiences as an underlying cause of violence. “We have to address the pain of hopelessness, poverty, unemployment, and death. We have to address the pain of destruction in community, of powerlessness and of inequality. We have to address the pain our kids feel – of having no money in pocket, having no clothes to wear to school for five days, and no food in the house when our kids get get home. We have to address the pain of having an older brother in jail or a youth being in jail at age 17 or having just got out of jail and not being able to get a job, or a driver’s license. We have to address the pain of being a crime victim. We have to address the pain of being 17 years old and can’t read.”
Mayor Baraka called on residents to organize outside their homes. “When we leave here, what are you going to do? We didn’t come here just to make you feel good. When you go home, become part of a block association. If you haven’t got one, start one. If you have one, join it. Start a block watch. Patrol your neighborhoods. We need people to question people who are on the block who don’t live there. If you live on the block and don’t know your neighbors, that’s a problem. Ring doorbells and introduce yourselves.”
The mayor also reminded attendees of the importance of speaking up, particularly when the criminals are known to community residents or are family members.
“People aren’t dropping these kids from helicopters or UFOs into neighborhoods. We know these kids. They’re related to you all. They are our sons and brothers. But instead of taking action, you hide them in your basement. You get them out of town. They cause havoc in the neighborhood in the neighborhood and you protect them. You don’t stop them. You don’t grab them up. You don’t tell on them. But then you’re on Twitter complaining about what the mayor should do when your son is out there creating havoc. You need to say something to hem. Pull them aside. Have a rally in your own living room and kitchen. Hold an ‘Occupy Your House’ rally,” he said.
“We have to open our mouths. No more silence. Tell. It’s over. When you tell, you’re not a snitch. It’s different. When you tell, you’re saying, ‘I’m not with you. I’m not part of what you’re doing. Being a snitch means ‘we’re together.’ Telling means you’re saying: ‘You don’t belong on my block – you’re causing problems in the community, I’m calling the police. We should all be telling. Then go to the next block, and make them tell, too.”
The Mayor also called upon state and federal agencies to replicate the Marshall Plan that rebuilt western Europe after World War II in America’s urban cities. “When we fought wars in other countries, we rebuilt their roads, gave money for police and built hospitals, schools, and the whole infrastructure. Our cities and infrastructure are crumbling. We need new schools, hospitals and roads. We need jobs. Not 100, or 1,000, but 5,000 and 10,000. We need this in Newark and every city in country. We need it now.
“We must end poverty. It is the number one enemy. It is the worst form of violence. It is killing us. That is why we are fighting. Violence is a public health issue. Violence is a disease that spreads everywhere. It kills people. We all know mothers who have lost children to prison and shootings. We must treat it as a disease. No more silence. Stop the violence. Say, ‘We are human beings. We don’t deserve to die on sidewalks at age 13 or 14 years old.'”
The rallying points and contact organizers for each ward were:
- North Ward: Victoria Avenue and Cutler Street. Contact: Daniel Figueroa (201) 566- 6097
- South Ward: Brunswick Street and Astor Street. Contact: Stacey Hillsman (973) 715-3629
- East Ward: Pennington Court. Contact: Ligia DeFreitas (201) 566-3137
- West Ward: 15th Street and 15th Avenue. Contact: Marques-Aquil Lewis (201) 566-5108
- Central Ward: Central Avenue and 9th Street. Contact: Al’Tarik Onque (201) 463-6372
Many groups joined in led by city and community organizers and Municipal Council members led marchers from their wards to the rally. Chief of Staff Amiri Baraka, Jr. served as Master of Ceremonies.
“From Chicago to Newark, we are one people. We must work to find peace within ourselves and to be at peace with each. Violence destroys the beauty inside of us and kills our communities. Let’s unite and do what is right,” Common told the crowd.
Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, co-founder and President of GrassROOTS Community Foundation and Assistant Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, served as the rally host. Speakers included Abyssinian Baptist Church pastor Reverend Perry Simmons; Nicole Paultre Bell, fiancée of police shooting victim Sean Bell; and representatives of clergy and community organizations.
“When I was growing up here and misbehaving, people would say, ‘Amos, if you keep doing that, you’ll wind up in Rahway State Prison,'” recounted Newark native and actor John Amos. “Well, I cleaned up my act, and I did wind up in Rahway, only I was making a movie with Sly Stallone! We need for our children to be able to achieve the same dreams – to be actors, lawyers, doctors or Supreme Court justices.”
During the rally, the Newark Fire Department provided information about their drive to recruit new firefighters, while the Mayor’s Read and Believe program gave out free children’s books.
Photo Credits: City of Newark Press Information Office