Hope springs eternal in US Newark, 50 years after riots
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.
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