Democrats Introduce Legislation to Address the Surge in Violence in New Jersey’s Urban Areas

TRENTON – Responding to the surge in violence in New Jersey’s cities, Senator Ronald L. Rice, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker (all D-Essex) today announced legislation to create a commission to study the sources and causes of urban violence and to recommend to the Governor and Legislature methods to address them.

“New Jersey’s urban areas have experienced an unprecedented wave of violence in recent months. Multiple killings have occurred in broad daylight and innocent children have been murderer in cold blood,” said Senator Rice, who also serves as Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “We have to combat the violence that is being carried out in our communities, but we also must address the underlying social and economic problems that are at the core of this epidemic. With this commission, we will drill down on the critical issues that are plaguing our urban areas and develop a clear course of action to address them.”

“The effects of violence go far beyond just the tragic impact it has on victims,” said Caputo. “Entire communities can be held hostage by the lingering fear and unrest it produces. If left unaddressed, this cycle will continue to fester, strangling communities and stifling hopes. We must tackle the root causes in order to break this cycle and free our residents from the toxic socio-economic fallout.”

“Violence in any form is senseless, but when innocent children are claimed in its name, it defies comprehension,” said Tucker. “We can’t expect to tackle this problem in a vacuum or merely by adding a few more police officers to our streets. We need a systematic and comprehensive approach to stem this violence, one that brings together leaders from all walks of the community to lend their insight and expertise.”

An analysis by The Star-Ledger found that New Jersey’s homicides reached a seven-year high in 2013, driven by the violence in the cities of Trenton and Newark. Newark recorded 111 homicides last year and Trenton saw 37, according to the report. One of the Newark murders was that of a 13-year-old, Zainee Hailey, who was hit by a stray bullet as she took out the trash, the Ledger reported.

Deadly shooting incidents have already shaken the state’s urban areas in the first month of 2014. In one case, a shooter approached a vehicle at 11:30 a.m. in Newark and open fire, killing two occupants and wounding three others. Trenton registered its first shooting death of the year in the first week of January, and last week, the Times of Trenton reported that police had responded to three shootings in the span of eight hours.

The legislators’ bill will establish the “New Jersey State Commission on Urban Violence” to study the sources and causes of violence in New Jersey. The 40-member commission would consist of representatives from a broad spectrum of state and local officers and officials, law enforcement, professional organizations, academics, labor, and faith-based and church-centered associations. It would file two interim reports with the Governor and the Legislature to details its process – at the sixth and twelfth month following its organization – and a final report within 18 months.

Modeled after the charge given to the so-called Kerner Commission, formed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to study the sources and causes of the violence and disorder that ravaged America’s cities, including Newark, the panel will assess the invasive impact the violence is having on individuals, families and communities, and recommend action to address and alleviate the sources and causes.

“More than 40 years ago, a commission was formed to study and report on the causes of civil unrest that was taking place across the country. The panel put forward a number of recommendations that began the progress of re-establishing hope, family values, economic justice, equal employment opportunities and the reconstruction of American cities,” said Senator Rice. “It is my hope that this new commission will identify ways to address the violence issues that are now plaguing our state, and make clear recommendations to the Governor and Legislature for successfully addressing the sources. The pain and fear associated with the violence that is taking place in our neighborhoods cannot be permitted to continue. All New Jersey residents, no matter where they live, deserve safe and peaceful communities.”

The bill was introduced today in both houses.