Tuesday, August 14, 2007

After Killings, Sense of Unity Surprises Newark

An incredible, inspiring story on the front page of today's NYT about how Cory Booker, his supporters and adversaries and the entire city of Newark are coming together after the terrible shootings.

If disaster can be seen to have even a hint of silver lining, the homicides, which have drawn news coverage across the nation, have provoked a level of outrage, and commitment to change, not seen here since the riots of 40 years ago.

A group of ministers have come together to form a youth mentoring program, residents and organizations have donated more than $150,000 to assist the victims’ families and local antiviolence organizations have been flooded with offers of assistance.

The killings have also become a defining moment for Mayor Cory A. Booker, who has been struggling to turn around this city since his election last year and who lately has found himself besieged by critics. The week before the killings, Mr. Booker had been grappling with the aftermath of a speech, captured on YouTube, that was intended as affectionate ribbing of a community leader who recently died, but instead provoked offense and fueled the sentiment that he is detached from his constituents.

In rousing eulogies at funerals for the victims last weekend, Mr. Booker repented the remarks, and throughout the past week he has become the spiritual voice of a city in mourning.

He has repeatedly visited the scene of the crime, cried with grieving relatives, and in a bizarre moment that only helped to elevate his central role, found himself presiding over the surrender of a prime suspect, who had requested such personal attention through his lawyer.

Through his anger and grief, captured on countless radio and television programs, Mayor Booker has lived and breathed this experience along with his stunned community, allowing him to temper the widespread sentiment that has long painted him as an outsider because he grew up in a mostly white upper-middle-class suburb and attended elite schools.

“I feel like this is a unique moment and it’s upon all of us to harness it,” he said in an interview on Monday. “This is a chance for Newark to not let a vicious moment define us, but a chance for us to turn it into a defining moment for our city.”

Amid the calls for healing and unity, Mr. Booker has denounced the critics who have blamed him for the city’s homicide rate, which, unlike most other categories of crime, has stayed high. (In the last week, there were none.) “This is not a time for pointing fingers,” he said. “Each of us has to take responsibility for what is happening in our community.”

Three people, including two teenagers, have been arrested in the shootings, while the police continue to seek three more, two of them teenagers as well. The police say the primary suspects are Jose Lachira Carranza, 28, who was out on $150,000 bail despite pending indictments on a charge of raping a 5-year-old, and one of aggravated assault in a bar fight; and Rodolfo Godinez, 24, convicted of theft in 2003. (Mr. Carranza pleaded not guilty on Friday; Mr. Godinez is at large.)

On Aug. 6, some 36 hours after the shooting, protesters invoked the killings as evidence of Mr. Booker’s shortcomings, calling for his resignation in a rally on the steps of City Hall. But as the week unfolded, his most vehement critics — including Donna Jackson, who organized the rally, and Rahaman Muhammad, a local union leader who has feuded with the mayor — temporarily set aside their invective.

“I think our children need to see that even in the face of disagreement we still have a common agenda,” Mr. Muhammad said. “This is an excellent opportunity for the mayor to use the bully pulpit and bring people together as a community.”

Mr. Muhammad said the killings prompted him to revive a moribund group he had founded, Fathers in the Hood, that pushes men to become better parents, and that Mr. Booker had agreed to help promote it. “We have to show people that this tragedy is bigger than just me and the mayor,” he said.

PS--Be sure the watch the short video embedded in the story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/14/nyregion/14newark.html
The Hard Part

After Killings, Sense of Unity Surprises Newark

Published: August 14, 2007

NEWARK, Aug. 13 — An unexpected thing has happened to this crime-weary city since three young friends were shot to death in a school playground nine days ago.


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