South Orange Avenue Protesters Want Greater Police Protection
Drug dealers 'control the neighborhood', residents say
A daylong protest was held along a few blocks of South Orange Avenue Monday to call attention to a neighborhood where residents say crimes including drug dealing, carjacking, robbery and even murder are routinely carried out with near-impunity.
“This is ridiculous that you have to do this kind of thing to get the Newark police to do their job,” Mamie Bridgeforth, pastor of Faith Christian Center and a former member of the Newark Municipal Council, said into a microphone as she stood in the street, which was closed to traffic between Smith and Stuyvesant.
Bridgeforth was referring to the heavy police presence in the West Ward neighborhood Monday, which temporarily disrupted the open-air drug market normally taking place amid the area's nail salons, houses of worship, boutiques and take-out restaurants.
“We cleaned up that part of South Orange Avenue for a day. There are no drug buys going on today. There’s a police presence for this day,” said West Ward Councilman Ron Rice.
Rice was among a rotating throng of protesters braving sub-freezing temperatures who called for the department and Mayor Cory Booker to allocate more resources to the neighborhood, a commercial corridor near the South Orange border.
Rice has repeatedly requested funds for a police mini-precinct in the area, at a South Orange Avenue storefront a few blocks east of Monday’s protest. The substation, similar to one already operating in the South Ward, would house six officers who would conduct foot patrols.
Rice, however, said that the mayor and police officials have failed to act, despite a promise from Chief Sheilah Coley last year that the facility would be authorized within weeks.
“We’re not here to beat the mayor up, or to beat the director up. We want help. We want to know what we can do,” Rice said.
Although concerns about neighborhood crime are longstanding, what ultimately sparked Monday’s protest was the failure by police officials to attend a community meeting Feb. 11 at Bridgeforth’s church to discuss ways to combat crime. In a published report, Coley and Police Director Samuel DeMaio said they did not attend due to conflicts, but were willing to schedule another sit-down.
Bridgeforth, however, said that’s small consolation to the dozens who showed up earlier this month.
“We had merchants there at that meeting, and I’ve seen them walk by us today without stopping,” Bridgeforth said.
Bridgeforth as well as other protesters noted that many of the passerby Monday would normally be selling drugs from an apartment building and from in front of stores.
“We got a pretty nice response here,” she said. “The drug dealers have been coming out and giving me the evil eye.”
Other protesters spoke about how dealers and other criminals essentially control the neighborhood. Merchants are too fearful to shoo away loiterers from their front doors. A day care center was stripped bare by burglars in broad daylight. After one man shot another man several weeks ago, one witness said, the shooter did not run from the scene in a panicked escape but merely strolled away.
“One guy told me ‘if I got locked up at 1, by 5 I’ll be right back here on this corner,'” she said. “He was laughing at me.”