I’ve been thinking a lot about Newark over the last several months. In many ways, I feel like it represents a lot of the tensions, beauty, and ugliness that are happening in Black America, and a manifestation of what late-stage globalization means for Black people in America (I say “late-stage” because in my opinion, capitalism from its inception, was a global project–from early European trade with India and China for textiles, spices, and gunpowder to the African Slave trade and colonialization of the “Americas”).
Whatever the case, Newark has been on my mind, and in the press of late. Just this weekend, 4 young Black people were lined up and shot execution style in the Ivy-Hill section of the city in what news reports are calling a robbery attempt. One, a young woman, survived. Several were visiting home from college, or soon to begin this fall (Not that that makes their deaths more important than people who don’t go to college, but there is something tragic to me about young people striving for better, only to be cut down by the same fate they are so desperately fleeing).
Yesterday, there were protests by local people from the community, many calling for new mayor Cory Booker to resign, because he ran on a ticket of providing for Newark’s public safety. I understand the residents’ frustration, but one should not believe anything a politician runs on in hopes of being elected, no more than one should believe the whispers of a potential paramour after 11pm. No more than one would believe a crackhead in the throes of withdrawal.
Without fixing the education and health systems providing things for youth to do besides joining gangs or selling drugs, and jobs that are in communities where people live and other things that go the long distance towards stemming violence, the mayor cannot do anything but add more police. And the only thing the police can (or anyway, will) do is to threaten force, or to use it. And to call for the mayor to make good on increased policing will mean, perhaps, murder not by robbers or gang members, but by the police. And another protest for protection from the police will naturally follow.
And so goes the vicious cycle.
But I was in Newark on Sunday, apparently the day after the murders. I went to the Liberation in Truth Church (a Unity Fellowship Church), a Black LGBT congregation based in a liberation theology. I had been wanting to visit them for some time as I am now spending a lot of time in New Jersey. Well I finally made it to their 1:30pm service. It is held in the St. Phillip’s Cathedral downtown (they are fundraising for their own space). The attendees were small in number, about 20 folks, mostly women. But it was a beautiful service, led by Assistant Pastor Rose Hardy. The group also welcomed me with open arms, and it reminded me of the best things about what a Black Christian experience can be like—truly at its roots about community and creating the context to transform the daily violence we endure as Black people–if not systemically, then at least on a personal level, and it seems as though they are trying to do both. I’ll be going back.
As I am writing this, I realized there is much more I want to say about Newark, so much more thinking about Newark that I need to do, and much more time I need to spend there. I think this is the beginning of a longer essay—so I can’t give too much away. But I will say that there is something about Newark—40 years after the riots, Sharpe James to Cory Booker , Sakia Gunn to the Newark 4 (or 7) that holds something in it for us as Black people to think through the question we seem to be asking with much more desperation: What the hell has happened to us?