The haunting legacy of the Newark Rebellion, an uprising of the city’s long-oppressed Black community, continues to affect Newark’s social and economic future. Newark: The Next 50 joined a crowd of over 600 attendees with a panel of community leaders and activists to dialogue about the current political climate and challenges facing New Jersey’s largest city. At the event--cohosted by the Institute, NJPAC, Newark Celebration 350, and Due Process--Institute President and CEO, Ryan Haygood, introduced the discussion, bringing to the foreground issues of key importance to Newarkers, such as transforming the youth justice system, affordable housing, and achieving economic equity.
The conversation, moderated by Due Process host Sandy King, begged an important question. As Newark finds itself going through a period of revitalization, with Fortune 500 companies and luxury apartments finding their home in the downtown district, how will opportunity be extended to all of Newark’s residents and neighborhoods? In his introduction, Haygood made reference to Dr. King’s Two Americas speech, a fitting homage considering it was fifty years ago, just days before his assassination, that King visited the city of Newark. In his remarks on the panel, Ras Baraka, Newark’s mayor, focused on the city’s future and our ability to bridge MLK’s “Two Americas” through effective leadership, policy reform, and community involvement.
There’s no doubt Newark has undergone dramatic economic and demographic change but some things remain unchanged. New Jersey’s racial wealth gap is one of the highest in the nation, with the state ranking 44 out of 50 for income inequality. And the Institute’s research has shown that Newark residents hold only eighteen percent of jobs in the city. Given these troubling figures, gentrification and displacement are a primary concern for many Newark residents. In his remarks, Rutgers Law School's Distinguished Professor of Law David Troutt stated that the affordable housing crisis has been displacing Newarkers for years. The fear of displacement is also growing faster in some areas of the city than others, said attorney and advocate Victor Monterossa, who commented on the increasing rate of displacement in Newark’s Ironbound.
Newark’s stark racial disparities aren’t only present in wages but in the criminal justice system. The Institute is leading the call for a transformed youth justice system with Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian sharing a vision for what a complete overhaul could look like. Despite the fact that Black and white children commit most offenses at a similar rate, the youth incarceration system in New Jersey incarcerates far more Black children. Indeed, a Black child is 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white child--the highest racial disparity in the US. The Institute was recently named to Governor Murphy’s Youth Justice Taskforce and will advocate for closure of the state’s youth prisons.
In addition to transforming the youth justice system, McChristian spoke about reimagining the future of policing in Newark. Several panelists commented that, in the half century since the Newark Rebellion, the relationship between law enforcement and the community has been broken. The Newark Police Department (NPD) now operates under a Consent Decree which requires an Independent Monitor and his team to oversee reforms to the department. As a member of this monitoring team, the Institute is committed to ensuring that community input is heard in a transparent reform process. In addition, the NPD has committed to reforming and building its community engagement capacity. McChristian also highlighted Mayor Baraka’s push for legislation that would require five years of residency for those seeking employment with the NPD. This measure would answer the call from many Newark residents for more police presence by officers from and of the community. In his remarks, former United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman also spoke to the history of the Consent Decree process, and how, moving forward, he has great hope for transformative policing reform here in Newark.
With the backdrop of numerous clips from Due Process’s long history covering the city of Newark, panelists at the forum also discussed the role education plays in transforming youth justice and securing pathways out of poverty. Education activist Mary Bennett discussed the role parent involvement plays in raising student achievement and synthesized how lack of economic opportunity and stable housing impact student’s ability to thrive in Newark. Shana Russell, Program Manager for States of Incarceration and recent Newark transplant, lauded Newark’s efforts to provide educational and training programs for incarcerated youth and adults, pointing to New Jersey as one of the few states that make real educational investments during incarceration. Noted attorney and educator Junius Williams issued what was perhaps the most important reminder and call to action as we look to Newark’s future: “The power in the street must go along with the power in the suite.”