Yesterday my wife and I cleaned out our old apartment in the Ironbound and handed our keys over, which means I'm no longer a resident of Newark. While I am glad to have much more space in our Maplewood home, I already miss the old neighborhood. I also feel a little guilty, because I feel like I am abandoning a city I love during its time of need. The small improvements and positive changes that I had been perceiving since 2007 (when I started splitting my time there) appear to have been wiped out in 2013.
Crime is way up again, evidenced by a recent New York Times article showing that Brick City is again the car jacking epicenter of America. The number of murders jumped to an alarming one hundred and eleven, the highest total since 1990 in midst of the crack wars. Not only is that death toll atrocious, the murders themselves have been especially heartbreaking. Last week on Christmas night a 13-year old girl was slain by stray bullet fired by another teenager in a revenge killing that also claimed a 15-year old boy. Corey Booker, the city's former celebrity mayor, bailed on Newark for the Senate, leaving this mess to the unlucky winner of the next mayoral election, which could very well put the old machine back in power. That outcome would mean graft and mismanagement on top of poverty and crime and will surely make things even worse.
Of course, few people outside of Newark and Essex County seem to give a damn about any of this. The recent killing of a man in a car jacking at the ritzy Short Hills Mall just a few miles (but worlds away) has received as much media attention as all of the 111 murders in Newark put together. As I have said before, some lives are cheap in this country, and none more so than poor people of color.
But others outside of Newark ought to pay heed, because Brick City's woes will be coming to them, too. There are two larger forces at work behind all of this that have made themselves felt more immediately in a poorer city like Newark struggling to keep itself above water before the twin tsunamis of economic stagnation and government austerity came crashing down. Not to mix metaphors, but Newark is the canary in the proverbial coal mine, and its fate ought to be seen as a harbinger for what's to come across the country.
Although the economy is no longer in free fall, as it was in 2008-2009, any recovery that has happened since then has been seen by the wealthy, not by the majority. Low wages and high unemployment are leading more and more people to desperation. On top of that, the response by government in the midst of such want has been to slash, rather than raise social spending. That austerity was held off for awhile by the 2009 stimulus' aid to state governments, but since Christie's coming to power in 2010, the state has slashed money to poorer cities, which has meant cutbacks in police for Newark and Trenton. Not surprisingly, crime and murder have jumped up in those places. Of course, most of the state's suburban population could hardly care less about the fate of black and brown people in places like Newark and Trenton, and will happily take a tax break and ignore the sight of blood on streets they'd never drive down in a million years.
New Jersey's austerity mirrors that in the nation at large. For three years now, since the Tea Party midterm of 2010, deficit reduction has trumped stimulus and relief. Republicans in Congress have largely gotten their way, evidenced by the fact that many food stamp recipients and the long term unemployed are about to lose their benefits. The bill for such negligence is finally coming due, and continued austerity will only make it worse. As a nation, we have decided to respond to a hopeless economic situation by making things even worse for the poor. For three years people have pretended that this won't have any consequences, they won't be able to pretend that much longer. I just wonder if when the death tolls and misery start to skyrocket in poor communities, anyone outside of them will care.