Written by: Taquan Williams, Newark Resident
A couple of weeks ago, I received an “IMPORTANT WARNING” from the Newark Firefighters and Fire Officers Unions. It read: “this warning goes out to all home-owners, residents, children, employees, students and anyone else who may enter the City of Newark for any reason.” It goes on to state that Mayor Booker’s proposed layoffs “will lead to death, injury and the unnecessary spread of fire!”
Then, while driving up Clinton Avenue for my weekly haircut, I noticed an ad commissioned by the Newark FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) that read: “Welcome to Newark. Stop Laying Off Cops.” The ad also used the city’s skyline as the backdrop with a strip of red crime scene tape to invoke images of crime and death.
Both public relations campaigns reminded me of the tragic, attention-seeking “Help Wanted Stop the Killings in Newark Now” signs that the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), another deep-pocketed union in Newark. The NUT strategically purchased ad space near all of the Newark’s major highways and high-traffic areas in 2007. The signs garnered national attention because they played into the perception that Newark is a city being overrun by thugs and criminals.
However, this is nothing new. For decades, we have seen this narrative play out over and over again, with little change to the playbook. From the late night Jay Leno jokes of the 80’s, to the movies like New Jersey Drive (1995) to Conan O’Brien’s recent faux-battle with Mayor Booker.
Long before the 1988 U.S. Presidential Election, we have seen the “Willie Horton-ization” of Newark. The only thing new about this strategy, is that it is being adopted by the very groups that have taken an oath to “serve and protect.” As someone that takes great pride in Newark’s rich history and its promising future, the current actions of the Newark Police and Fire Unions only do harm to Newark’s already fragile reputation and economic recovery.
We are in tough economic times; the worst since the Great Depression. Let me repeat: the worst since the Great Depression. While I’ve disagreed with Mayor Booker on minor issues, I don’t think he is left with many options in order to close the current budget gap.
Instead of invoking and provoking fear in the hearts of “home-owners, residents, children, employees, students and anyone else who may enter the City of Newark for any reason,” we should collectively come together to try to the share the pain that this recession has caused us to endure.
While I do believe that both organizations are well within their First Amendment rights, these scare tactics are antithetical to the oaths that each officer and firefighter are sworn to uphold. In sum, they only perpetuate the myth that Newark is a dangerous and unlivable city. To me, it seems as if both unions have lost confidence in their own abilities to fight crime and keep residents and visitors safe. Going forward, I hope Newarkers loudly reject these fear campaigns. They only do harm to our great city.