Notes for Brick City, 4th Night: Conflict and Resistance to Real Change

Apologies to all who have been following along as Newark Councilman Ron Rice chronicled Sundance Channel’s 5-night documentary about his city, Brick City. We were both in Atlantic City, and the Trump folks screwed up my internet, so I couldn’t help post this till now. It’s still worth reading, and Brick City is worth looking for, in cable On Demand and in replay. The series drew considerable attention to Mayor Cory Booker and the city council and police department he works, and the people who live in NJ’s largest city. Ron watched every episode, then wrote about it in the wee hours of the morning – Newark’s leaders keep late hours. Expect this series to be in competition for film awards, and expect it to be shown again. Here’s Ron, about Night Four.  – – promoted by Rosi

On the 4th night of Sundance Channel’s Brick City, you see a major internal city government fight in Newark during 2008: who will run the Newark Police Department, the Police Director or the Police Chief? Both men, Director Garry McCarthy and Chief Anthony Campos, are hardworking men of their word and fighting the good fight.  Campos, however, is a Newark born and bred cop from the city’s Portugese community that rose up through the ranks to a top law enforcement position.  Director McCarthy is an Irish cop from NYC. Some, in the city and within the Police Department, have a strong case of xenophobia, an irrational fear and/or resentment of outsiders, some of it justified, some of it is a knee jerk fall back position that helps to stop change in our city.  Its roots are found in the resentment of the city’s African American and Latino population to the white flight that started in the ’40s, picked up steam in the ’50s, and was complete in the late ’60s and early ’70s.  It is also grounded in the fact that Newark’s population during the day swells to close to 500,000, but goes back down to 281,000 after 5:00 PM.  Many feel that people just use our city to make money, get what they need and have no real commitment to our city or its people.  So, the attitude is stay out, we that live here can solve our own problems without anyone’s help and indeed, we don’t want any new immigrants, income diverse people from NYC and other places, etc. coming to “our” city because it just means trouble. Add to the mix that the Police Director is trying to change a culture within the Department, change policing techniques to be more aggressive (he has moved lots of desk police back to street patrol and altered a department that had a majority of its force working 9 to 5 to working when crime actually occurs), and the fact that Mayor Booker was not born and raised in Newark and you see the resentment of the “outsiders” trying to take over Newark at the expense of good, Newark born people like Campos and others that were laid off from City Hall as we shrink government and the new businesses and condos that are coming downtown.  In the end, the city council supported the Mayor and his request to support him by supporting the man he brought in to lead the agency to record reductions in crime, but I like the comment that has traction beyond this fight from David Cruz, on air personality at our Jazz 88 radio station in Newark: “No matter how much good you get done, there is always someone that will put out something that you are F@#king up on.”

You get a really good inside look at gang life in the city. Jiwe, an author and Blood member says that as long as there is poverty, no jobs, projects, crack, there will be gangs.  It is hard not to like Jiwe as he knocks down stereotypes. He is intelligent, prolific, clear minded, but gang related, like Jayda. You see why gang life is attractive in poor urban communities because it is not all violence, murder and drug dealing.  In fact, that is only a part of it (a major part, but not the only one). Gang life is family, support, even fun times. It is protection, acceptance and, yes, love in a world where Todd Warren said last night, men do not know how to show love to one another. Crime is a small exchange for this sense of belonging that no one else is offering or providing. The key challenge is, how do we take these gangs and make them gangs that support our community and indeed build community in Newark?  How do we educate them and make them emulate groups like the Black Panthers that fed our communities, politically educated themselves and others and protected our neighborhoods from crime and destruction?

Jayda’s case progresses. Now that she is doing right, old bad habits and her past could disrupt it. This is a message to all of our young people that your past can be an anchor around your neck so don’t start down that path in the first place.

Ringling Bros circus comes back to Newark. The Prudential Arena has been a mixed blessing for the city of Newark. Good events, spurring new venues and nightlife in downtown Newark, great events like Miley Cyrus, Lil Wayne, Gospel fest, and Devil’s hockey (when r we going to get out of the first round of the playoffs). But the perception is that there is too much police protection for the “outsiders” that come here to the city to just use us and take vitally needed police protection from the neighborhoods.  The city has also been in constant fight mode with the Devils over non payment of rent, lack of needed certificates of occupancy, water bill payments, even street and campus improvements that they are responsible for all after the fact that the city has done all we promised.

Lastly, we meet Hood Ru, Blood gang member and friend to Jiwe’s set…briefly, because he commits suicide. Gang life is hard and a hard life and the lesson that all, not some, will eventually end up dead, in jail for extended periods of time making them unemployable, or crazy mentally just does not get through. Gang life, no matter what Jiwe and others may say in the documentary, are recipes for an early death, a lifetime of abject poverty, and relegation to a permanent underclass as well as their progeny and offspring that will come into the world with two strikes against them and worst odds for a better life than his mom or dad. but most in that lifestyle don’t think they will live that long.  Most do, and their lives are many times unsaveable. Stay tuned.

Brick City aired five straight nights this week, on the Sundance Channel. Expect it to be rebroadcast.

Comments (3)

  1. Jason Springer

    I really enjoyed your take following the episodes after you had the chance see on television what you and many others live each day. I thought the series was very well done. How would you say things have changed for the better or worse since the series was filmed?

  2. Jay Lassiter

    I can’t wait until after the election when i can have some quality tEVO time with my family.  On deck:  this very cool sounding series AND the Ken Burn’s doc about National Parks.  Combine that with Project Runway and Mad Men and I will basically be on the couch from November 4-Thanksgiving.

    In the meantime thanks to Councilman Rice for his colorful commentary and the teaser.


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