May 22, 2015

Recent events in Newark, New Jersey have re-ignited conversations around crime and public safety. On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 9, 2015, a shooting at an event took the life of 15 year old Al-Shakeen Woodson. Following this event, a shooting occurred where three people were shot and one individual was killed. Without a doubt, this has brought the community to its feet to finds ways to address neighborhood safety through the municipal, community, and individual standpoint.

These incidents and the public outcry that followed raise the question: what can local government, communities, and individuals do to continue ensuring neighborhood safety in Newark, NJ? Sparking a citywide debate over the frustration of criminal activity and how to best address the possibility of crime prevention, Mayor Ras Baraka outlined a strategy to “Occupy the Block,” an initiative inspired by New York City’s “Occupy the Hood” and “Occupy Wall Street” which gathered community members together to work on minimizing crime by engaging in neighborhood activities like community watches and social games. The first “occupation” was held recently on Thursday, May 14 at Clinton and Chadwick Avenue. The list of occupations can be located on the City of Newark’s website.

“#OccupyTheBlock is an excellent opportunity to get back to true community policing. The effort puts names and faces to uniforms and civilian wear and provides a neutral plan to get to know your neighbors and officers. It’s a grassroots approach to a grassroots problem that will hopefully lead to a more empowered Newark-neighborhood…” said Pamela B. Daniels, strategy consultant for The Brickerati Group, a public relations and business development solutions firm.

While Baraka has added this initiative to his list of public safety strategies, he acknowledged the history of community based practices like “Occupy the Block.” According to a recent article, many residents came together and proposed ideas to “take back” their neighborhoods from gang members, shootings and drugs. Fortunately, crime subsided, but as time went on, crime picked back up, resulting in a neighborhood often known for its high crime rate. With the high levels of crime came decreasing opportunities for residents, especially children to socialize in safe spaces.

As a result of limited safe spaces, conversation around bringing in open spaces have begun. Open spaces, whether in the form of parks, gardens, or a community center have proven to be beneficial to communities. Data from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health show that green space in people’s living environment has a positive association to the health and wellness of residents. Key experts in the field of health and community wellness, such as Dr. Hanaa Hamdi will discuss this initiative in more detail at the Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit.

On June 6, 2015, Leadership Newark will host its 2nd Public Policy Summit. Improving neighborhood safety and youth crimes will be discussed through objective and honest discussions and workshops. Featured speakers around public policy affecting neighborhood safety and community health will be the City of Newark’s Director of Health and Wellness Dr. Hanaa Hamdi, and Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice’s Director of Community Outreach Lori Scott Pickens. We anticipate a very substantive, intellectual, and empowering conversation that will lead us to continue making changes. Your participation at the summit will add the necessary voices needed to make progress. Stay updated on the Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit by checking out the Summit website at and joining our email list on the Leadership Newark website home page. We will continue to announce new developments on our Facebook (leadershipnewark), Twitter (@leadershipnwk) and Instagram (@leadershipnwk) over the coming week.

Occupy the Block 2