HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, the Pew Research center reported on how different racial groups see the police. Only a third of all African-Americans view the police as doing an excellent job, compared to roughly three-quarters of all whites. Working with the police is one of the many responsibilities of Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Ras Baraka.
For over a year, “NewsHour” special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault has explored solutions to the nation’s racial tensions and sits down with him for the latest in our series.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ras Baraka’s election as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, sent chills through the city’s establishment.
MAYOR RAS BARAKA, Newark, New Jersey: We need a mayor that is radical.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Out of nowhere, Ras Baraka has won over most of his critics, and we sat down with him to find out how.
But what do you mean by radical?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Well, I mean going to the root of the problem. That’s what it means to me. That’s what radical is.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But, somehow — and I will start with the white people who doubted you — and yet, according to The New York Times and other articles I have read, you have won them over. What did you do?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: We have — you know, I, as the mayor, have been able to lead very well and bring people together and negotiate and fight for what we think we need and compromise around the issues that we can gain ground on.
So, ultimately, I mean, the chair belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to me.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So, how do you balance off creating opportunities and supporting business with the people who live in these poverty-stricken neighborhoods?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: These are not poor cities in terms of it resources.
There’s just the wealth is not staying in the hands of the people that are here. And you have to create scenarios where more wealth is — remains behind for the people in this town.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In the two years that you have been mayor, have you seen substantial change there?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: We have a municipal I.D. that we didn’t have before. We have 6,000, 7,000 more people who now can involve themselves in the city, pull themselves out of the shadows and participate in city services, that can put their money in specific banks, that can, you know, participate in the economy of this city that could not prior, when — if they had a record or if they were immigrants.
We have begun to attack the unemployment rate in the city. It’s spiraling downwards, but there is still a huge way to go. And we’re pushing for a jobs plan on a state and federal level. That’s been extremely helpful.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: One of the things I was interested in that I read about was how you support the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as police. How do you reconcile those two things?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Well, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
I think that, you know, safety in the community, African-Americans want to be safe in their community, like any other nationality that lives in America. They don’t want to be robbed. They don’t want to be beat. They don’t want to be shot down in their neighborhoods, whether it’s by police officers or people who live there.
So, to advocate for police in a community, I don’t think is a contradiction. I think it’s necessary. But what I think we want is community policing and police officers who care about the community that they live in, who think that they’re part of a community, and not an occupying force in a community.
And I think that is important for us to create, change the culture of the police department, where they begin to see that they have to police our neighborhoods the same way other people’s neighborhoods are policed in suburban communities and other areas.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So, how are you doing that?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: We have developed a civilian complaint review board.
We changed the makeup of the internal affairs. We provide training for new recruits that is not like the training that they normally get. They get sensitivity training. They get the kind of de-escalation training. We begin to sensitize them to what’s happening in their neighborhoods and the communities where they police.
We try to advocate that police officers live in a community longer than they normally do. So, those are things that have to happen.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what result are you seeing?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Well, we have just begun. So, we can’t, like, give you empirical data on it. We have only been in office two years, not 25, and this problem has been, like, decades of work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you’re getting feedback from both sides, are you not?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: I think that some of the concerns about a civilian complaint review board are based on knee-jerk reactions that people have about police supervision that they have always had.
But we live in a new time and a new place, and people have to begin to be ready for the kind of oversight that the public is demanding. And I don’t see any of that as contradictory to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
People say all lives matter. And that’s true, but it’s just black people that are getting shot in the back running or choked to death for having cigarettes or playing their music too loud. So it’s important for us to uphold all life, but we have to be honest and say that, you know, African-Americans are being disproportionately affected by, you know, the kind of misuse and abuse of power.
And so there needs to be, obviously, some light shed on that, which is why Black Lives Matter is important. And then there needs to be some reconciliation and repair of what’s going on.
So, all of the things, from body cameras to review boards, to training, to people calling for independent investigators, all those things are important for us to get a handle on what’s happening in our cities.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You have just described a situation that exists in many cities across this nation. What kind of solutions would you propose? And what kinds of things have you done that you could share with others to improve these circumstances?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: I think that, ultimately, the only thing that affects race relations is fair treatment.
I mean, the problems that exist in Newark are national problems. They’re systemic problems that existed before I was even born. And they exist all over the country, which means that we need a systemic solution for these problems.
So, we don’t know everything. We’re experimenting and trying to do the best that we can with the ideas that we have, creating opportunities for cooperatives, so we can get people to begin to own business and own what they have in their community to offer.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Cooperatives?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Cooperatives where we have collective ownership, workers begin to own the businesses that they work in.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Based on everything I have read, you have a really good relationship with business, the business community, for the most part. So how do you see getting them invested in the things that you have just talked about?
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: Prudential held a convention or conference for us here in Newark about procurement and convening the folks in a community, the business community, to begin to help us invest more in this community.
Saint Barnabas has invested in the capital project of our cooperative laundry, reentry laundry, made up mostly of folks who are 100 percent Newark residents, predominantly black and brown folks in the city, folks who were formally incarcerated who are now beginning to learn how to run and operate a laundry business. And they’re going to own and operate a cooperative laundry that does business with the local hospitals in this area.
We haven’t hit a home run yet, but, you know, I think we’re up at the plate and we’re swinging.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us.
MAYOR RAS BARAKA: No problem.
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