Hope springs eter­nal in US Ne­wark, 50 years after ri­ots

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

For years, Liz Del Tufo re­fused to fol­low white friends and neigh­bors who fled New Jersey in droves after deadly July 1967 ri­ots that left the city of Ne­wark in ruins. Half a cen­tury later, her stub­born streak is pay­ing off. Del Tufo, 83, has forged a friend­ship with Ju­nius Williams, an African Amer­i­can ac­tivist who doc­u­mented po­lice vi­o­lence dur­ing the up­ris­ing, which saw young blacks torch and loot dozens of shops along Ne­wark’s Spring­field Av­enue from July 12-17, 1967.

It took the Na­tional Guard five days to quell the may­hem-an out­pour­ing of pentup rage against daily dis­crim­i­na­tion against a grow­ing African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity after po­lice beat up a taxi driver. “All that was left was con­fronta­tion,” re­calls the 73-year-old Williams. In the end, 26 peo­ple were killed, and more than 1,000 oth­ers were in­jured. Williams and Del Tufo are now both work­ing to im­prove Ne­wark, New Jersey’s most pop­u­lous city, which is best known for its crime rate and in­ter­na­tional air­port 15 kilo­me­ters from Man­hat­tan.

She is the pres­i­dent of the Ne­wark Preser­va­tion and Land­marks Com­mit­tee. He works to im­prove city schools. “Ebony and ivory” says Williams with a smile. “Salt and pep­per,” in­ter­jects 83-year-old Del Tufo. Their friend­ship at­tests to on­go­ing ef­forts break the vi­cious cy­cle of poverty and vi­o­lence in the city. If signs of poverty are nu­mer­ous-dirty streets, boarded-up homes and idle res­i­dents loi­ter­ing on street cor­ners-there are also grow­ing signs of re­gen­er­a­tion in the place where novelist Philip Roth grew up be­fore white flight.

Mil­len­nial march

Ne­wark’s pop­u­la­tion, which fell from 405,000 in 1960 to 272,000 in 2000, has started to rise again and to­day has more than 280,000 res­i­dents. Though gang vi­o­lence and drugs re­main en­demic, An­thony Am­brose-Ne­wark’s pub­lic safety di­rec­tor-says crime in 2016 fell to its low­est level since 1967. Up­scale new build­ings are be­ing built in the cen­ter of Ne­wark or along the Pas­saic River. Mil­len­ni­als priced out of New York are mov­ing in, as are ser­vice in­dus­tries-both unimag­in­able a few years ago.

“The city did not get bet­ter for a long time,” says Del Tufo. Con­vinced she would have to move after her hus­band died in 1970, she’s now “re­ally glad” she stayed. “Things have started to change,” she says. If Williams re­mains an ac­tivist at heart and now wor­ries about the neg­a­tive side­ef­fects of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, he also ad­mits dis­crim­i­na­tion has waned. “Is it as egre­gious as it was in 1967? No,” he says.

Long road ahead

Three years after the ri­ots, the city elected its first black mayor, Ken­neth Gib­son. All sub­se­quent may­ors have been African Amer­i­can, re­flect­ing a pop­u­la­tion that is now 52 per­cent black and 33 per­cent His­panic. The make-up of Ne­wark’s po­lice force has also changed dra­mat­i­cally with 78 per­cent of of­fi­cers now black or His­panic. The crime-rid­den hous­ing projects-which were the nerve cen­ter of the ri­ots-have been torn down, re­placed by en­tire streets of houses re­served for low­in­come res­i­dents. — AFP

NE­WARK: This file photo shows riot po­lice guards drag­ging a ri­oter away from the scene of vi­o­lence in Ne­wark after New Jersey’s largest city wit­nessed a sec­ond night of racial dis­or­der.—AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.