A Cry for Newark

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?

4 thoughts on “A Cry for Newark

  1. Great thoughts on the recent tragedy in Newark. I look forward to reading your essay.

    Hmmm….Black America…the Black community…I wonder if it’s more accurate to identify people in the US as belonging to Black communities, than just “the Black community.” The fact that the young victims were in college alludes to the different response we have to these murders. While your higher education status/experience (or lack thereof) should neither elevate nor lessen the value of one’s life, your comments above indicate it does affect how we react to this tragedy. Perhaps our reaction would be the same, whether they went to school or not, if America’s many Black communities (and different black social, political identities) address how to value any life at all levels of progress, hardships, and expression. The struggle (or failure) to do so may be “the hell” happening right now.

  2. Well I think I agree and disagree Sherman. I do think there are different Black communities in the US, and it seems like you’re suggesting that the plural implies a certain level of differences in terms of class, region, or even different nationalities, etc. But what I am suggesting is that while that is true, blackness, and anti-black racism works in such a way that we can in fact speak about Black people as a whole in this country, because being racialized as “black” means that your life choices, regardless of the mitigating factors of class or region or national origin, are somewhat circumscribed.

    I do think we have these different reactions to death based on social status or gender or whatever, but I do think I would have been equally affected if the people who died were gang members. Having had friends who were killed violently-even though they sold drugs or were in gangs and whatnot, I know that those lives are also valuable, and their loss is also tragic.

    My point however in saying that was to in fact point out this thing about the fixed nature of blackness, that regardless of one’s desire for social mobility, we are still subjected to gratuitous violence and premature death.

  3. I understand better the point you made. Thanks for the response to my response :-).

  4. Pingback: The Newark Murders Reveal Possible Gay/Race Bias « Kenyon Farrow

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