Reforming the Reform System

What is the cost of crime and law enforcement? Right now, it’s too dear, argues Mayor Cory Booker, in an essay published in the Perspective section of The Star-Ledger last Sunday. With academic specificity and a reformer’s zeal, the mayor attacks what he calls the absurdity of the war on drugs and urban crime. Of course law enforcement agencies should go after criminals, he says, however some punishments for passive offenses (such as drug possession) are overly harsh. They stretch over decades and end up perpetuating a cycle of disenfranchisement, frustration and repeat offenses in the people that were meant to be reformed.
We all know the often sad sequence of events that play out after a young black man serves a prison sentence. He guy gets out of prison and, unless his family runs a business where he can work and re-establish himself in society, he has a hard time convincing employers to take him on. If his joblessness and other societal needs and privileges are withheld long enough, and if he does not have the fortitude to resist his old practices, he will get frustrated and go right back to what he knows – crime. He’ll run the risk of getting caught for drug dealing, gun trafficking or a host of other crimes, because he’d rather not sit around feeling powerless and useless.

Well, Booker wraps up with a prelude to an announcement, slated for this week, of changes that the City of Newark will undertake to halt the cycle of rehabilitation and recidivism. He expressed his intentions a bit – last year, I think – when he launched that organization of lawyers who volunteer to help former felons re-assimilate into society. This essay (plus a string of comments to newspapers and other media) clearly articulates what is arguably Mayor Booker’s top priority as Newark’s chief policy maker: reforming the reform system. In his mind, at least the essay suggests, the draconian laws that buttress the correction system and the prison industrial sector (and I partially quote) “ … stand in stinging contradiction to whom we claim to be” as a society.

What sorts of changes are afoot? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If I could be a tad selfish (and as is my nature, silly) I think recruiting a famous bakery to Newark should be a critical element of prisoner re-entry programs. Hear me out: I trust we are all familiar with that wonderful institution up in Yonkers, N.Y., called Greyston Bakery. Founded by a former aerospace engineer and Zen Buddhist, they operate a profitable social enterprise that, among other things provides jobs and job training to individuals who have had trouble finding employment in the past.

So, potentially, a young man who once threatened to bus’ a cap in some punk can promise, in a nice civil way, get your red velvet wedding cake done post haste. Brothers with jobs and yummy desserts — that is the America of which I dream.

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Newark Police Officer Sustains Injuries after Traffic Incident

The men who work to maintain law & order in Newark and the surrounding area really are taking a few hits during the month of July. First, an armored car driver and guard was killed during a robbery a week and a half ago, and now Newark police officer Cesar Estrella was dragged for several blocks while working a traffic stop. Although he is currently in critical condition, according to 1010 WINS, he is expected to survive. Otherwise, this would have made the second horrible police killing to happen during a traffic-related incident in recent memory. It was encouraging to hear that Newark police caught the guy who did this. I know prayers must be going up from all over the city for Estrella’s full and speedy recovery.

For 2 Nights only at Gallery Aferro

1938August 11 + 18th, 2007 at Gallery Aferro

Instigated by Sebastian Patane Masuelli
Performance by American Watercolor Movement at 8 PM

1938 is a site-specific installation instigated by Aferro studio resident Sebastian Patane Masuelli with musical collective American Watercolor Movement 1938 is also an original film created by Masuelli and filmmaker Michelle Mumoli.  Jersey City-based American Watercolor Movement, consisting of Tom Barrett, Joe Centeno, Jason Cieradkowski, John Fesken, Mark Townsend and Brian Wilson, will be giving two live performances of “The Mustacio Suite,” a musical score to the film with lyrics based loosely on the Spanish Civil war.  During each performance, Masuelli will play VJ, creating a new narrative for one night only.  Artists contributing to the set include John Fesken, Aferro resident Jesse Wright, Pete Tuomey Jr, and Seth Godwin.

The recruitment and involvement of an extended community of artists and musicians for the project constitutes a semi-ironic reference to underground resistance, not unlike Thelonious Monk’s 1968 Underground album.

Sebastian Patane Masuelli is an Argentinean-born installation artist currently in residence at Gallery Aferro. His work has been seen recently in The S Files at El Museo del Barrio, NY, NY and La Argentina Pinta Bien at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina.  He is also the founder of the Fease art collective, which took over abandoned Bloomfield storefronts with performance and exhibitions.

A recent reviewer wrote of American Watercolor Movement: “It’s hard to imagine this amalgam of junkyard technology, unabashed artiness, multiculturalism, and high theory coming from anywhere else” (but New Jersey.) Their songs have been described as “confusing, sleazy, foggy, threatening, decayed; usually sexy, sometimes dangerous, always alluring.”

Motivated by a self-described affinity for lost causes, Masuelli has assembled a ragged army of volunteers to create a strangely seamless alternate world within Gallery Aferro’s Newark space.  A ghostly aura of idealism and artistic production past hangs over the entire undertaking.  Please join us this August,1938.

Newark Community Foundation Established

Non-profits must be one of the biggest sectors of enterprise in Newark. Well, the sector is about to get even bigger, now that the Newark Community Foundation has joined the army of alliances, conservancies and coalitions that are dedicated to raising the quality of life here. The Newark Community Foundation is different because apparently it is the first citywide organization dedicated to being a platform for wide-reaching and varied charitable operations. There are dozens of ways that it can support Newarkers. So, maybe a local neighborhood association can apply to the foundation to help improve their park, a recreation center can get funds for a huge neighborhood party or a local business can co-sponsor a scholarship with the foundation. Maybe it could provide scholarships for a few girls who want to attend the science-and-math oriented summer enrichment program at NJITFEMME.
This is awesome, and if I could be a bit selfish here, I would like the foundation to look northward, to support the Branch Brook Park Alliance. That organization raises funds and works with Essex County to keep Branch Brook Park attractive, as well as promote historic preservation. I mean, the springtime cherry blossom displays are wonderful and all, but I’d really like to see the drainage problem solved in that park. Certain areas practically turn into lakes after a robust rain and some areas of the park seem permanently waterlogged. We’ll leave it to the NPD to clean up its, um … unsavory reputation as a place for covert drug dealing and other creepy goings on.
The foundation is good news, really good news. I hope the foundation — and Newark’s citizens and outside supporters — can really pull off some wonderful things.

James Pleads Not Guilty to Charges

New York Times: Ex-Newark Mayor Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption. The Times covers some additional detail about the trial, which is set for February. The prosecution argues that by representing James, Thomas R. Ashley serves a conflict of interest. The judge dismissed the argument.
Interesting to see Sharpe so relaxed next to a sober Tamika Riley. Does he know something we don’t — like his chances of negotiating lower charges — or is he being his typically cagey self?

At his arraignment in federal court Monday, former Mayor Sharpe James pleaded not guilty to corruption charges and then listened as one of his lawyers defended himself against allegations that it would be a conflict of interest if he remained part of Mr. James’s defense team.

Prosecutors told Judge William J. Martini of United States District Court that the lawyer, Thomas R. Ashley, had represented two other people involved in the case against Mr. James and his companion, Tamika Riley.

Mr. James is accused of charging more than $58,000 in personal expenses on city-issued credit cards during his two decades as mayor and of selling city land at below market rates to Ms. Riley, who the authorities said then resold the property at an enormous profit.

Judith Germano, an assistant United States attorney, told Judge Martini that Mr. Ashley represented someone referred to in the criminal complaint as “Individual 1.” The person, who is not named in the indictment but who is “close to both defendants James and Riley,” lent $10,000 to Ms. Riley to help her pay for several properties in Newark and later received checks from Ms. Riley, according to prosecutors.

Ms. Germano said the other person Mr. Ashley represented was “an attorney in a number of real estate transactions” that are part of the case. In response, Mr. Ashley said, “I don’t see that there’s a conflict.” The judge told Ms. Germano to submit a brief with her concerns.

During the hourlong court appearance, Mr. James, 71, wearing a dark blue suit, smiled and seemed relaxed, limiting himself before and after the hearing to a single, repeated comment to reporters: “God is good all the time.” He and Ms. Riley, 38, who also pleaded not guilty, waived their right to a speedy trial.

Ms. Riley, whose relatives sat in the small, packed gallery, looked more anxious than Mr. James. She wore a black suit, flipped through legal papers, and did not smile.

Eight Year Old Girl Hit by Driveby Gunfire

Her wounds are non-fatal, but this is just awful: Newark Star Ledger: Drive-by gunfire hits Newark girl.

An 8-year-old Newark girl was wounded in a drive-by shooting that targeted her South Ward home yesterday afternoon, authorities said.

Sumter Kosshemah was in the front yard of her Weequahic Avenue multifamily house with several family members shortly before noon when a car pulled up by the curb and a passenger began firing, said her aunt, Phyllis Robinson.

“There was all this shooting and hollering,” Robinson said. “I went outside and she came up to me, saying, ‘I’m shot, I’m shot,’ and there was blood running down her arm.”

Sumter was hit once in the left shoulder and she was taken to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center with nonlife-threatening injuries, police said. No one else was reported hurt.

Sumter, a second-grade student at Chancellor Avenue Annex, was released to her mother’s custody, Robinson said. “We called her, she (Sumter) said she was okay,” she added.

Police said they were investigating and could not say what the motive may have been for the shooting. But authorities added that they did not believe the girl was the intended target.

Witnesses said the car involved in the drive-by was a white Dodge Charger with tinted windows, and recalled hearing several shots as it sped off, escaping with a quick turn onto nearby Clinton Place.

Security Guard Killed in Holdup

New York Times: Guard Is Killed in Holdup Delivering Cash in Newark. Robbers shot and killed a security guard near University Hospital on Friday at 9:25 AM. The guard was a former marine, and is survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter.

A security guard was shot to death on Friday morning after he drew his gun on two men trying to rob him as he delivered money to a check-cashing store near University Hospital here, the police said.

Officers blocked off the scene of the fatal shooting of a security guard in Newark Friday morning. The guard, Nestor De La Rosa, 47, drew his gun but was unable to fire at his attackers before he was killed.

The authorities said that the guard, Nestor De La Rosa, 47, was shot once in the head after he stepped out of his armored van about 9:25 a.m., a bag of cash in hand and a few paces from the front door of Town Check Cashing, the business that employed him.

Mr. De La Rosa, a former marine who lived in Paterson, was taken to the hospital, across the street from University Plaza Strip Mall, where the shooting occurred. He died a half-hour later, officials said.

Mr. De La Rosa, who was working alone, drew his gun, but was unable to fire at his attackers, who were apparently awaiting his arrival, said Newark’s police director, Garry McCarthy.

“We believe right now it was a planned operation,” Mr. McCarthy said during a news conference a few paces from where the robbery took place. “At this point it looks like they were waiting for something to happen — and lo and behold, it did.”

The two men fled on foot, according to witnesses, and left behind a bag of cash, which the police say contained around $11,000. Some bills had been blown around the parking lot. But it was unclear how much money, if any, they had taken.

Mulberry Street Redevelopment Now, Pretty Much, Officially Dead

The New York Times reports that the Mulberry Street Redevelopment Project has ground to a court-ordered halt: Judge Stops Newark Redevelopment Project. If the project sounds vaguely familiar, it could be because a particular billboard on Route 21 has been trumpeting “The Mulberry Street Redevelopment Project is coming” for at least a year.
It could also be because Donna recently asked if the recent eminent domain ruling by the NJ Supreme Court means hands off Mulberry Street? (answer: apparently, yes). Or perhaps breathless articles about Newark’s renaissance as gauged by the condo market by The Star Ledger, The New York Post, or the Urban Land Institute made the Mulberry Street project sound as though it were ushering in a new era of Hoboken-level redevelopment.

Or, it could be that you remember the political controversy stirred up by Mayor Booker in the last days of the mayoral election last year as he questioned the “emergency” council meeting to approve a 20-year tax exemption on the developers. Booker then later explained his position, on declaring Mulberry Street was an area in need of redevelopment on WBGO’s Newark Today in the interest to create a community, jobs and economic vitality, all while neither supporting or condemning this specific project. Hm.

In any case, the project, unless the developers drastically rework their approach to the community and the financial terms of the deal, looks to be officially dead. One wonders whether this ruling will drastically change the direction of city development over the course of the next few years. Will this court decision severely limit the ability of the city to reclaim land for redevelopment?

A New Jersey judge effectively killed an ambitious downtown redevelopment project in Newark yesterday, ruling that the city’s decision to condemn 14 acres of property on behalf of a private developer was ill-conceived and wrong. The project, the Mulberry Street Redevelopment Project, a proposed collection of 2,000 market-rate apartments and stores in the shadow of the city’s new hockey arena, would have been the largest development initiative here in decades.

In her decision, Judge Marie P. Simonelli of Superior Court said the administration of Mayor Sharpe James misused the state’s rules on condemnation when it declared 62 parcels “an area in need of redevelopment.” She said the row houses, mechanics’ shops and parking lots, while somewhat tattered, were not “blighted” and suggested that the decision to condemn the property was politically motivated.

In her decision, Judge Simonelli mentioned the close links between the developers and the James administration, adding that large contributions had been made to the former mayor and the Municipal Council, whose approval was needed for the area’s condemnation.

The decision comes after a landmark State Supreme Court ruling last month that restricted the ability of towns and cities to use eminent domain as a way to seize property they deem could be put to better use. “It clearly shows that the teaching of the Supreme Court is having an effect,” said Ronald Chen, the New Jersey public advocate. “If they want to declare land blighted, municipalities are just going to have to work a little bit harder to make their case.”

In her decision, Judge Simonelli cited documents from 2002 in which the developers essentially dictated the terms and scope of the project, including tax incentives. She observed that there was evidence that the project was “a done deal, a fait accompli, before the required statutory redevelopment process began.”

False shades of Red

There is a wide spread rumor that has been somewhat confirmed through out the city. The recent concert containing rapper Lil’ Wayne was cancelled because of his blood affiliation. I don’t have true confirmation of this so this is a alleged. I would have thought the fact Cory Booker was allegedly threatened by the bloods this concert would have helped.
 How you may ask if it is wide know Lil’ Wayne is a blood all alleged as I said. This would have been a perfect chance for the Mayor to show his power and control by going on stage with Lil’ Wayne. This would of been a sign of solidarity and piece on the alleged part of the bloods and of Booker. What better way to show control over a situation than to make piece with your alleged enemy.

If in all actuality the bloods did threaten him and Wayne is a blood cancelling the concert at the last minute no less is a sign of cowardice. Why gang members flock where other gang members are and Lil Wayne is one of the most popular rappers out right now. He is every where by standing with him you show the bloods or any gang that you stand for any challenge and fight for your city through all adversity. By cancelling the concert you show cowardice in a sneaky I got you kind of way.

I’m am not a advocate of gangs or supporter in any way I’m supporting my city and wanted the Mayor to show the young people who need someone positive. I doubt they really know the true meaning of gangster is politician and nothing would have been more gangster for Booker. I also think of the revenue lost that promoter and the performers may not want to come back to our city. Which I believe is opening a new arena if I not mistaken but so what all the acts I have heard of being lined up aren’t for current Newarkers but for the Mayor’s“New Newarkers”. I guess I’m not one of them but less “Rock on at the Rock” or whatever the catch phrase is.