Newark, NJ, made national headlines in August 2019 when a group of protesters gathered outside the city’s Prudential Center during the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet and chanted, “We don’t want MTV, we want our water unleaded.”
In January 2020, Newark started the New Year with reports of lower but still increased levels of lead in the water – a problem that has plagued the city since 2017. And just a few months later, local officials faced not only a serious lead problem, but also the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) which would claim more than 680 lives locally and lead to more than 13,000 cases.
Despite the obstacles COVID-19 posed this year, Newark showed that it was determined to learn from its past, its senior service line replacement program almost complete, and largely peaceful protests in response to George’s assassination Floyd hosted by the police in May.
Addressing racial justice with a view to history
The protests in Newark after Floyd’s murder were peaceful near the epicenter of the city – the same place where demonstrations against police brutality in 1967 left 26 dead and hundreds injured.
Mayor Ras Baraka stood next to protesters on the Front lines of this year’s demonstrations. And instead of using the police in riot gear, a coalition of community groups, clergymen and others helped keep the peace and work with protesters. This included the nonprofit Newark Community Street Team (NCST), which sent representatives to the protests to monitor the activities and educate the participants.
In Baraka’s state speech, he spoke of local residents, protest organizers and activists, “who knew the headline would have read ‘Newark Burns Again’ instead of ‘Thousands March for Justice for George Floyd and an End to Systemic Racism’.” “
Newark City Council and the Mayor also took steps to accelerate racial justice efforts. A June ordinance directed 5% of the Newark Police Department (NPD) Funding – approximately $ 12 million – to establish a permanent violence prevention bureau that manages all of the city’s violence prevention initiatives and programs.
A strong COVID-19 response
Newark was hard hit by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, recording around 200 to 300 new cases a day in April. Baraka issued on-site housing orders and launched a multilingual awareness campaign to contain the spread.
The second wave this fall also led to further local restrictions, with the city-wide positivity rate at times reaching just over 11%. To ease the resulting financial burden on residents, the city launched new programs, sent meals to thousands of residents, and opened free testing centers.
Some of these efforts included providing grants of up to $ 1 million in payroll and other expenses.
“There is a great deal of excellence in the city, there are a number of graduated people who have dreams, who have hopes, who want to help rebuild the city,” said Tiara Moultrie, a policy officer for the New Jersey Institute social justice (NJISJ).
Newark also stepped up efforts to replace its lead water pipes during the pandemic, especially as the need for clean water was further highlighted by public health officials, who emphasized the need for regular hand washing. In fact, the lead service line replacement of the city (LSLR) Program is replacing 15,000 of the city’s more than 18,000 lead connection lines with copper tubing.
According to Ernesto Freire, chief of staff at Bloomberg Associates, who is consulting with the city on a pro bono basis, this advancement means replacing over 1,000 pipes a month, which is a good lesson for other cities with aging water infrastructure.
Newark’s efforts this year go a long way in shaking off its reputation for battling crime, poverty and other problems, Freire said. “This is a moment when Newark really takes people by surprise because they are the ones out there and lead the prosecution,” he said.
Looking ahead, we can certainly expect further progress. Baraka urges, among other things, experiments with a universal basic income (UBI) and in his speech on the State of the City called for more development in largely neglected districts. He said that would have to change if the city is to continue making progress.
“If we want to take our time, resources and energy to the next level in this city, this is where we have to spend our time,” said Baraka. “It affects our tax distribution, our social costs, homelessness, drug addiction, murder and grievous bodily harm.”