- Ras Baraka
mayor of Newark, New Jersey, elected in May 2014. He is a native of Newark and represented the city’s South Ward from 2010 until his election as mayor. He is a longtime educator, credited with turning around Newark’s Central High School as principal from 2007 to 2014. His father, the late Amiri Baraka, was a global activist and noted poet.
While 130 people died in the Paris attacks, an average of 100 Americans are killed in gun violence every day, prompting many to question whether “another Paris is taking place in America this very day.” We speak with one of the mayors leading the charge for stricter federal gun laws. Ras Baraka is mayor of Newark, New Jersey, where one in four residents live in poverty, schools are under state control and the city has one of the highest murder rates in the country. “The shootings in these cities where I am the mayor and all over the country are growing higher and higher because of access to guns,” Baraka said. “In New Jersey, fortunately, we have some stricter gun laws. But unfortunately, they bring guns across I-78 and I-95. Guns come from the southern part of the country and into hands of 14- and 15-year-old kids who are using them to solve disputes and creating murder and mayhem in our community. We have to have universal kind of gun laws that affect every state and every city, not just a few.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the war here at home. A hundred and thirty people died in the Paris attacks, but on average nearly 100 Americans are killed in gun violence every day. We’re joined now by the mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, Mayor Ras Baraka. In Newark, one in four residents live in poverty—not so different from New York City. Schools are under state control, and the city has one of the highest murder rates in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: In a recent article on Salon.com called “'Another Paris is taking place in America this very day': Republicans don’t care about dozens killed daily by Guns,” Campos writes, quote, “It’s a grim statistical fact that a Paris-style massacre takes place in America on every single day of the year. It doesn’t happen in one city, or with TV cameras nearby, but on an average day nearly 100 Americans are killed by guns.”
Mayor Baraka has called for stricter federal gun laws. Elected in May 2014, he’s a longtime educator, credited with turning around Newark’s Central High School as its principal for many years. His father, the late Amiri Baraka, was a global activist and noted poet. This is the first time Mayor Ras Baraka joins us at our table, and we welcome you to Democracy Now!
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us, neighbor. So, let’s start with the issue of gun control. You’re one of the loudest voices on this issue. It’s a stunning fact, 100 Americans every day die of gun violence.
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Yeah, well, the shootings in these cities that—you know, where I’m the mayor and all over the country, are high and are growing higher and higher because of access to guns. In New Jersey, fortunately, we have some of the stricter gun laws. We ban assault rifles. We ban magazines that carry certain amount of weapons, kind of bullets. We ban all of that. But, unfortunately, they bring guns in across 78, across I-95. Guns come up from the South, southern part of the country, into our cities, into hands of 14-, 15-year-old kids who are using them to solve disputes and creating murder and mayhem in our community. So we have to have a universal kind of gun laws that affect every state and every city, and not just a few.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And have you been able, in the time you’ve been in office, to have some kind of impact on the overall violence, especially murder rate, in the city?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Sure. I mean, when we first came in, we reduced the number of violent crimes the immediate year that we came in. After that, the first quarter of the year, we reduced it by 40 percent. You know, we’ve witnessed a spike this summer, as most major cities have witnessed. But we are still—you know, we stabilized that and trying to get that under control. So we are coming up with all kinds of strategies that I think that help us reduce violence and crime in our communities.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how has it been? You’ve been in office now 15 months.
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you were a surprise victor to the establishment of New Jersey. The former mayor and senator, Cory Booker, did everything he could to back a candidate against you. And what’s it been like, being able to—or having to come up against the established powers in New Jersey?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Well, it was a difficult fight. I mean, you know, you’re talking being outspent five, 10 to one, in terms of the amount of money that was raised. And I think the money came from way past folks than the senator, you know? It was more of the kind of school reform guys, also the establishment party. The Democratic Party at the time was also organized against us. So we had to use mostly labor and community activists and folks on the street to be able to make this election a victory.
AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department, U.S. attorney for New Jersey, did an investigation of the Newark Police Department. It found 75 percent of the stops and checks of civilians were unconstitutional; 85 percent of them were of black people, were racially discriminatory. And the investigation also found the Newark police did engage in the use of excessive force and that the Newark police drug and gang units were engaged in criminal activity confiscating drugs and money of people they were arresting for their own use. How are you dealing with this? And can you talk about the police review board that you have established through executive order? Why didn’t it come outside of that? Will it expire at the end of your term?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Well, we have a consent decree now and that we’re about to finish finalizing with the U.S. Attorney’s Office because of the findings, where we have to have a monitor, that we’re trying to get him in and out. We don’t want a monitor for 10, 15 years where we’re using taxpayers’ dollars to take care of that. But the Civilian Complaint Review Board that we established through executive order is still being stood up, so it’s not complete yet. It is the law, according to us, and we’re still negotiating with the state attorney general, with the U.S. attorney, trying to have a review board that’s better than the ones across the country, so one with subpoena power, with investigatory power, as well. I think that’s what our issue is. We’re still fighting for that. And once we get it established, I think the council will vote to make it an ordinance, a law in our city.