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State legislators push for studying urban violence

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There are certainly an array of topics discussed around New Jersey each day. From the economy and jobs to healthcare to taxes to state and city budgets. While there have been some conversations about reforms related to guns and violence, Governor Chris Christie has been mostly against sensible changes for the state after Democrats in the State Legislature how guided a robust package of laws to his desk.

With a growing need for more attention on addressing violence in the state, a handful of state legislators have stepped up and have specifically targeted urban violence. It is not a new story or development that Newark among other urban cities in the state has had its share of issues with violence. There were strides during part of the last decade in the right direction but with less police officers and forces working against reformers things began to slide back in the opposite direction. That is where state Senator Ronald Rice (D-28) and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28) come in. The three represent a district that encompasses part of Newark.

They decided to focus their attention on stemming violence in urban areas and came up with a joint resolution to set up a commission to study causes of urban violence and possible solutions.

As Rice would state,

I believe Newark is going to go back to where we started in 1967 (referring to the historic riots of that year). It’s difficult not to have jobs and not have opportunities. I fear cities such as Newark becoming powder kegs that could explode in violence as cities did in 1967.

The panel would report in 3 intervals: after 6 months, after 1 year, and after 18 months. Each time findings would be sent to the governor.

Rice would add,

We’re hoping to come back and deal with substance. We have to go back and identify the causation of this violent crime.

As mentioned, there was progress for a stretch of a few years in Newark. However, homicides last year reached triple digits for the first time in seven years.

Caputo would also express,

This is an epidemic nationally. We’re somewhat numb to those situations that occur within certain boundaries. The leadership is not there to speak out and address these situations. We cut cops in Newark and no one says a damn word.

This is not the first time the state has seen a commission like this. Ironically enough, there was a National Commission on Civil Disorders formed in 1967 to respond to the turbulent unrest and violence since in American cities like Newark.

With unemployment still a major issue and those without education or a structured setting and focus, there is a higher likelihood that violence will increase.

Rice would speak to that combustible combination especially when linking events of nearly 50 years ago to today. He would voice,

In this state and in this country, we have come full circle to where we were in 1967 during the urban disturbances that took place.

Rice would also point out something that many supporters of more reform with gun violence have mentioned: there are daily shootings and violence in cities around New Jersey and across the country not just major events that draw the most attention and analysis.

While there have been roadblocks for reform with a Republican governor, the three legislators are hoping to rally members of their party and potentially a few from the other side of the aisle to get conversation and results in the right direction.

Fighting against eliminating environments like after school programs and centers that provide a structured outlet for those in areas where they might be more at risk of acting negatively or being a target of urban violence is also key to this overall conversation.

It would not be too long before two more Democratic members of the State Legislature would call on the governor to appoint members to a commission to study violence.

State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-20) sponsored a bill that was signed into law last year that would establish a commission to study violence. They too are calling on the governor to do more and get action started.

As Lesniak would exclaim,

We need to do all that we can to get a better understanding of the root causes of violence so that we can act to make our communities, schools and workplaces safer from the tragedies that have taken the lives of so many. The governor needs to make his appointments so that the study commission can get to work.

Cryan would add,

Further inaction puts the state farther away from finding the right solutions to address the growing epidemic of violence. It’s irresponsible for the administration to place this task on the back burner. The sooner the commission members are appointed the better. Let’s get back on track and allow the commission to do its work.

This matter should not be viewed as partisan issue. This is something that the state has grappled with for far too long. There has been some progresses as well as setbacks. Cities like Newark, Paterson, and Camden have seen continued violence. Legislators, city governments, and other officials have attempted to make necessary changes. A commission like this one would be a step in the right direction in getting a firmer grasp on the state of urban violence and what changes need to be made to prevent further high levels of violence.

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