Perspectives: What is the role of community events in quelling violence?

This Friday and Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., Bergen Street and Clinton Avenue were the epicenter of 24 hours of Peace, a community event that included a set by legendary rapper Rakim and a bevy of other hip-hop artists, wellness activities, art, children’s activities, and speakers.

We asked event attendees and organizers how they think initiatives like 24 Hours of Peace fit into the city’s overall violence mitigation strategy: are concerts, rallies, and other community/cultural events a useful longterm tactic within a more comprehensive approach to quelling violence? Read below to see what they had to say, and tell us what you think in either the comments or the form beneath the story.

Joseph Burrows, 54, Newark, NJ

“It should keep down violence for this day and make people happy, but I think it’s something that we have to take day by day. We need to communicate with the community and make people understand that you don’t have to fight each other. We can rejoice and be victorious in time. This is all for the youth. They need to see this. They need to know that it’s not always about violence or about shooting.”

Anthony Campos, Chief of Police, Newark

quote_anthony campos“If you’re actually fearful of coming out of your home, if you don’t come outside, if you don’t sit on your stoop, if you don’t know your neighbor, then how will you know when something’s not right, or when something bad is occurring, or when someone who’s not supposed to be there is entering your neighbor’s home?

“The only way for you to know that is for you to be part of the community. Events like this facilitate that. If you notice, you have a large crowd here, and usually when I respond to a crowd like this, it’s usually a very bad thing. But here you are. You have this crowd and there’s no tension. You hear the children laughing.

“So what that’s going to do? Hopefully in the long run this tells people, hey, this is your city. Let’s not fall prey to perception. Let’s not fall prey to fear. Let’s come out and enjoy our city, and if there is any bad element, they will
tend to leave. Because if you look at it historically, the first thing that normally happens is the good people vacate an area and the bad people come in. So if people are out interacting, no one is going to do any harm. I know it sounds so simple, but it just doesn’t happen.

“It’s our hope that this is going to encourage people to come out and to enjoy the community, enjoy the night, enjoy the activities that are provided. And what has to happen is this can’t be the exception to the rule, meaning this can’t be the only time it’s done. It has to be an ongoing thing, so this becomes the new culture and this becomes the new norm. That’s how you build the community up block by block.”

Brenda Gibson, Newark NJ

“It proves that we can all get along. The kids are the future, and for them to see that we can all get along, they will be able to have the expectation that they can get along with their peers also. I think that’s a great message to give them.”

Jovonna Hinnant, 30, Newark, NJ

“I don’t think it’s going to make a permanent impact on the city, because once this event is over with, there’s no telling what can happen the next day. After this is over with, everything is going to go back to normal.

“I was born and raised in Newark, and I’ve always known it to be a violent city. The only way that I think we can help the city is through the younger generation. Their parents need to be in their children’s lives more often. Parents don’t raise some of these kids. The streets raise them.”

Amiri Baraka, Jr., Chief of Staff, City of Newark

quote_amiri baraka jr“We have to start from somewhere. We’ve been doing this for five years. The problem is that, unfortunately, a lot of our young people are disconnected from what the reality is. For them, violence is popular, and we’re trying to make it unpopular, so we just have to start a movement and any movement is protracted; we didn’t become America overnight.

“So it’s a process, and we’re willing to be committed to the process. By giving people information, empowering people, giving them jobs, giving them education and an outlet to express themselves, that’s how you reduce violence in the community. When Ras ran, he said, ‘When I become mayor, we become mayor.’ That’s empowering people, giving them a sense of hope so they can speak up. Hip-hop is a fabric of oppressed people’s culture; hip-hop is a voice for young people. The age group that’s engaging in the violence, they adore hip-hop, they love hip-hop, but unfortunately, they love the wrong parts of hip-hop. We’re just trying to get them over to the good side.”

Shikhana Muhammad, Newark NJ

“Events like this expose our children to the culture of music. It also gives them an opportunity to see us bonding as a people, in a loving way versus us always being angry at one another. I think it’s a beautiful cultural expression for our children to see the community as a family coming together.”

Yvonne Becheam, 45, Newark, NJ

“For me, I think it’s up to the parents to tell their children what the event is about, first and foremost. You shouldn’t just bring them here like it’s a big block party. I spoke to my son and I told him, ‘This is 24 Hours of Peace, that means no violence, no fighting, no arguing, it should all be peaceful.’ I think it helps if the parents tell the children what it’s all about. I’ve been here for three years, and I’ve been to the last three 24 hours of Peace, and I have not seen any violence. It’s peaceful in my neighborhood. I haven’t seen any violence in my neighborhood, but there are still people getting shot around us.”

Tawanda Peebles, 22, Newark, NJ

quote_tawanda peebles“I think it helps for one day. It’s nice for one day not to have a shooting, but that’s pretty much it. The violence comes in waves, so the city’s going to have do a lot more than this to make peace a permanent thing.”

Reverend Louise Scott-Rountree, Newark NJ

“I think it’s helping because if we send positive messages to the young people, then they will do positive things. We need to stop sowing negativity into their minds, saying it’s okay with all of the music that they’re listening to that’s condoning some of the worst activity that’s going on. As our mayor says, our children are now communicating through violence because they are listening to it all the time. And our elders are condoning it, saying there’s nothing wrong with it, because as he says, they want to be down.”

Tracy Munford, 55, Newark, NJ

“It raises the visibility of why working together is so important. It’s about teamwork: it’s the kids, adults, and elderly people coming together to have a peaceful moment and just appreciate peace. From there, we can work as a community to create more sustainable programs to encourage peace. As a city, we need to look at health and mental health as an important part of our lives. We also need to look at how we employ people. Violence is usually a result of poverty, so if we can attack poverty and get everyone on the same page, then we can eradicate violence.”

Michael Dixon, 46, Newark, NJ

quote_michael-dixon“I’m a teacher in Newark, and the books we’re giving away were donated by the American Federation of Teachers to the teacher’s union in Newark, so I come out to make sure that the books get into the right hands. I think that anything that brings people together on a positive note sometimes brings that negative element that would be elsewhere to this kind of event. They have one of the greatest rappers, Rakim, performing. So if someone who likes Rakim is doing dirt somewhere across town, they won’t be doing dirt there because they are here.

“These types of events are making an impact. It’s a slow process, but the more they do them, the better it will become. The reality is that this situation will continue to perpetuate itself until the community says, “enough is enough.” And when that time comes and the community truly stands up, we’re going to see a whole different Newark.”

Darlene Gordon, 40, Old Bridge, New Jersey

“Seeing people out here and knowing that there’s some kind of support in the community is very helpful. Sometimes people get caught up in what we see on the news, and they don’t understand that there are these resources in the community, and people aren’t finding out about them unless they come into the hospitals.

“In the long run, I believe [this event] will help facilitate community interaction. We work in the psychiatric ER at Beth Israel Hospital, and we just want to let people know about the services we provide. We don’t only work with adults, we work with children also, and a lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that these services are available to them.”

Hakim Green, hip-hop artist and one half of the duo Channel Live, activist, host of 24 hours of Peace

quote_hakim green“Violence is always going to exist; we’re never going to stop violence. But what we can do is that we can build discipline within ourselves to control our environment so violence doesn’t affect us to that degree. We can figure out ways to not react in violence and to understand that violence is cyclical, it’s energy, and the more you project it, the more it exists.

“But just like violence is a natural part of life, so is peace. And we have to do a better job at balancing the two in our lives. That’s what 24 Hours of Peace is really about. It’s about giving people real tools so they can better manage peace in their lives. 24 Hours of Peace is a concert, but it’s also a character development program. It includes critical thinking, conflict resolution, physical fitness, and entrepreneurial skills. We’re all about giving young people real skills to deal with their environment.”

Dr. Janis Johnson Dias, Associate Professor of Sociology at John Jay College and President of The Grassroots Community Foundation

“I think that trying to keep violence at bay is a daunting task, and I think that 24 Hours of Peace and The Wellness Pavilion being [here] is part of a preventative strategy that treats violence as a public health issue. It says that we constantly have to be vigilant about how we are addressing acute violence, like gun violence in the community.

“Here today, we’re having people check their blood pressure at the beginning, and after engaging in some stress reduction exercises, check it again. When they see the drastic change, they can actually take those practices home with them, and those practices can shared and applied to managing deeply stressful situations. These situations include poverty, crime, and noise. So I think events like this help. It helps to engage in prevention instead of singularly addressing the acute crime.”

Deserie Westry, 48, Newark, NJ

quotes_deserie-westry“I don’t think it’s really effective. I mean, whatever violence is going to take place is going to take place regardless of what you do out here. We need more cops out in the city patrolling, and we need people to come out and not be afraid to report the things that go on.”

Isaiah Little, 26, Newark, NJ

“I think everything is incremental, especially with larger issues, but I think even just being here for 24 hours is stopping a lot of activity for 24 hours. You come through Clinton Ave between Osborne and Bergen any other day, it’s not going to be as many people, but there’s going to be a lot of activity and it’s not the activity that we want. So I think that even if it’s just for 24 hours, that’s pretty major for a street. It might save one life, and that’s major. I mean, we’re also passing out books, we’re exposing children to art, so I think that those things are not as tangible, but just as important in the fight to stop crime.”

Kern Bruce, 32, Newark, NJ

“I think culture drives everything. Culture is a thing that motivates people. Events like this cultivate beauty. They bring people together and bring them around creativity, music, and art, and things like that serve to inspire. And that’s what’s needed in places like this. People need to feel inspired. People need to feel like they’re loved.”

Katie Blackwell, 80, Irvington, NJ

quotes_katie-blackwell“I think events like this can be effective. A lot of times, we’re in our homes and a lot of us don’t know what’s going on out in the streets. We hear it from the news. But when you can see love in action — this is what I call love in action — that makes a big difference. Community members need to see love. Love from the top. Love from the mayor, the governor. And when children see this, they begin to understand that we can get along and love each other. That is what brings a community together.”

Denise Cole, 56, Newark, NJ

“Events like this help educate the young ones and help change the language about how violence exists in our community. It unites the community and brings us together, and it’s through these gatherings that we can get true information out to residents, and community members can stop being miseducated about the circumstances in our community.”

Nyle Fort, 25, Newark, NJ

quotes_nyle-fort“Events like this affect culture. It proves that culture still matters. Yes, we have systemic and institutional issues, but we can do things about them. This is a response from the community, and it’s a really beautiful thing. These gatherings show that not everyone is violent; it’s a small group of people who are committing violent acts. So I think it’s a beautiful thing to see the community coming together and responding not only to the violence that’s happening in the communities, but the narrative that says that we don’t care about the violence in our community and we don’t care about each other. This is an explicit way of saying that we care: we care about our community, our lives, and our bodies.”

Marylin Zuniga, 25, Newark, NJ

“Along with knowledge and political education comes empowerment. So when we empower our communities through knowledge, that’s when people take action.”

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Featured image: Ashley Okwuosa

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