With his first-100-days marker past, Newark, N.J.’s new mayor, Ras Baraka, is trying a variety of actions to keep crime down in his bullet-riddled city. And variety means not just within the range of conventional, public-official thinking: Last week he had a secret meeting with gang leaders in a city church, with inside security provided by the Nation of Islam, while members of the Newark Police Department remained outside.
Although that idea may seem strange to outsiders, to Newark – largely populated by poor black and brown people raised in the residue of the 1970s “Power to the people” era—it’s innovative andtraditional. Baraka, a former city councilman and high school principal, is no stranger to this street-corner-organizing philosophy.
The Root spoke to Baraka about his motivation and his methods.
The Root: Why was the Bethany Baptist Church meeting private, and what has been the public reaction to it?
Ras Baraka: It’s been limited, the public reaction. But it’s been positive in a sense, that people are happy we are trying alternative ways and methods to reduce crime in the city. I would imagine that there are some people who probably would not agree with us going in this direction. But I think this is the right direction to go in. It’s what’s been going on in cities around the country.
We’re trying to engage them in city services. We’re trying to let them know that they are either a positive part of the growth of the city or a negative part. We are using the restorative-justice model, where we let them know the effect they are having on the community and the neighborhood.