Thoughts & Views: Baltimore & memories of unrest in Newark

How will future U.S. history textbooks explain the recent rioting in West Baltimore, I wonder.

Can we even expect to see mention of this and other recent civilian uprisings chronicled in school board-sanctioned publications?

Perhaps it, along with Freddie Gray’s death, and other minority deaths resulting from confrontations with law enforcement, will end up only as a footnote in a post -9/11 security-conscious American world view.

In the late 1960s, New Jersey got a taste of urban uprisings, in Newark, and to a lesser extent, in Jersey City, when minority populations took to the streets to express their rage and, unfortunately, looting was part of it.

In Newark, between July 12 and 17, 1967, the disturbances ended with 26 dead, hundreds injured and an estimated $10 million in property damage, Wikipedia reminds us.

And, each night, authorities closed the Bridge St. and Jackson St. bridges linking Newark and Harrison to keep the trouble confined to Brick City.

The Newark madness was ignited by the spread of rumors in the largely black community that police had killed an African-American cab driver whom they had taken to the Fourth Precinct for an alleged motor vehicle infraction.

City authorities called in the National Guard to help restore order, but things only got worse when, on July 15, a woman was killed after bullets strafed her apartment.

A blue ribbon commission was appointed to study what triggered the riot’s origins and, not surprisingly, the commission reported there was a pervasive feeling among the citizenry that widespread government corruption ruled the city, leaving many of its luckless residents on the outside, deprived of basic city services.

In 1970, a federal investigation yielded indictments – and subsequent convictions – of the city’s mayor and former Congressman Hugh Addonizio – a World War II combat veteran – for extortion. Several other city officials were also taken down.

In 1971, a parallel federal probe led to the downfall of Jersey City Mayor Thomas J. Whelan, longtime Hudson County political boss John V. Kenny and other members of the so-called “Hudson Eight” for taking kickbacks.

Will the pattern continue in West Baltimore and those other communities where minorities contend that they have long been abused by those in power?

And what does it take for community organizers and volunteers to work with elected officials in ridding those communities of the scourges of crime, drug dealing, unemployment, educational deficiencies and the like?

In his tweet heard around the nation, Baltimore Orioles COO John Angelos offered his take on the issue, saying that, “We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic, civic and legal rights ….

“My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy … is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt-end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

Is this simply the rant of a “Citizen Kane” would-be do-gooder or a well-reasoned analysis of the current political situation in America?

You’ll have to make that call – and maybe you’ll get that chance in next year’s presidential balloting – if the candidates present clear choices – and if you believe them.

Kearny Police Sgt. Paul Bershefski, an honorable man chosen as Policeman of the Year for his bravery and dedication, is participating in this year’s Police Unity Tour to memorialize the officers killed in the line of duty.

At the award ceremony held Friday night at the local VFW post, Bershefski said that the bicyclists’ route is being diverted away from Baltimore because of safety concerns.

“It’s a little rain on our parade but it’s nothing compared to what law enforcement is going through,” he said.

Maybe the preferable option for the tour organizers would have been to pedal through West Baltimore and initiate a dialogue with the residents to show that there can be unity when good and reasonable people come together with a common goal.

– Ron Leir 

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