JAMES: The New Pandemic In Newark!

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We have more than one pandemic in Newark. As if COVID’s not enough, we have an escalating disease of car-jacking, car theft, and violence, particularly among our young Black men, some as young as 14 years old. And it’s keeping me up at night.

Maybe it’s one disease with different sets of symptoms. Since the onset of the pandemic, car thefts have skyrocketed in Newark. I’ve heard –and seen—what happens when schools are closed, teenagers have nothing to do, and think they have nothing to lose. If the world is ending, why not steal a car?

Here’s how it works. In Newark, kids, almost all Black boys, are stealing luxury vehicles, like Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsches, high-end trucks, and driving at crazy speeds through the city. Sometimes they crash the cars. Sometimes the cars end up in Connecticut or Long Island to be stripped down for parts.

It’s gotten so bad the Newark Auto Theft Unit, reports 101.5, has been in “overdrive” with 110 arrests this year, up 34% from last year. The Newark police are working with cops in Nassau County because so many cars in the state end up there: “They send 15- and 16- and 17-year-old kids to do these acts, and they know if they get caught because of raises in the age they are going to get out,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “They’re used for drive-by shootings. They are used for doing bank robberies and street robberies. They are used for drag racing by these criminals. Is it organized? One hundred percent.”

Our children are crying out for help, for hope, for a reason not to destroy their lives. We have failed to give them what they need. We have abandoned our children to the streets.

It’s on all of us: parents, teachers, the school board, Superintendent Roger Leon who somehow thought closing schools for 18 months was a sustainable plan. All you have to do is remember what Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon said back in January: “I’d see the entire city of Newark unemployed before I allowed one single teacher’s aide to die needlessly.”

How about our young men dying, John and Roger? That’s what’s happening, either that or they’re in jail. Newark has the most direct school-to-prison pipeline in the universe.

Meanwhile, those in power do nothing.

Perhaps it’s no one’s fault. Many of these kids already had issues in their homes–their parents might very well have been abandoned by the Newark school system a generation ago, just like they are now. And those parents have to go to work, deal with rising costs, rising mental illness rates, so who’s to stop those kids from doing stupid stuff out on the streets? Who’s there to keep them focused on their moral compass, on their education, on their future? As far as these kids are concerned, there is no future–just one endless day after another of idleness and chaos.

And it’s not just car theft. In July a group of Black kids, including a 17-year-old, were arrested after a gun shooting. First they were driving a 2021 Honda they stole from Jersey City and then a 2016 BMW they stole from New York City. Nine people were injured in the South Ward violence. Two weeks later four teenagers, including two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old, and a 17-year-old. all ended up with gunshot wounds. Last week four Newark youth were arrested after a high-speed chase for stealing luxury cars from Montville driveways.

Sharif Amenhotep from the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition led a rally through the West Ward, shouting, ““Stop the violence! Stop the killing! Stop the shooting!”

And suicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men. “We are failing Black youth,” said Devin English, assistant professor of Urban-Global Public Health at Rutgers University.

We’re all to blame. We see these issues and we do nothing. Even with the $282 million in federal emergency school aid, Leon and his team spend it on floor polishers and “inspirational videos,” further abandoning our youth.

I’m lying awake watching this young generation of Newark males get lost in the streets. It’s time to find them and bring them home.

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