Revisiting the Newark riots 50 years later

- On July 12, 50 years ago, no Black Lives Matter movement existed. No one chanted, "Hands up, don't shoot." But the same racial tensions that exist today were even more of a reality. So when police arrested and beat a black cab driver, calls for a peaceful protest were ignored and the city of Newark, New Jersey, was forever changed.

Springfield Avenue is where it happened. Those riots that left 26 people dead, hundreds injured, and millions of dollars in property damage. But it was more than that. What happened in this city over that four-day stretch is woven into the fabric of this city.

Attorney and educator Junius Williams doesn't describe what happened as a riot. The word he uses is "rebellion." He said black people were saying, "We've had enough."

They had enough on that night in 1967 when white police officers beat a black cab driver. Williams said that when cops dragged the driver into the police station people thought he was dead.

At the time, Calvin West had just become the first African American elected as councilman-at-large in Newark. He remembered an explosion, flipped automobiles, stores on fire, and more.

The National Guard and state troopers were sent in. Four days of violence and unrest followed.

Kenneth Gibson became the first African-American mayor elected in 1970 and served four terms. He said the violence was the culmination of frustrations in a city where the population was predominately black but lacked any power. That lead to heated disputes over real estate deals and school board appointments. He said people were looking for justice on those and other issues.

While the unrest helped usher in a new wave of black leadership, it also stunted economic development. Today, poverty levels among black residents in Newark are about 33 percent.

Former Mayor Sharpe James said that is a burden that the people have to fight every day. he said that is a challenge for whoever occupies City Hall.

Ras Baraka, the current mayor, said the city has come a long way but still has further to go. He has a unique perspective on what happened. His father, Amiri Baraka, was badly beaten during the riots. He said the city can't just talk about rebellion – it needs to talk about how to move forward.

For decades, Newark had the reputation of "riot city." Williams said that the city started to come out from under that mantle only recently.

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