On Aug. 4, four African American Delaware State University students, Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower, Terrance Aeriel and his sister, Natasha Aeriel, were shot execution-style in a Newark, N.J., elementary schoolyard. Only Natasha survived. Newark Mayor Cory Booker called the victims “good kids with bright futures who had never been in trouble.”
Three suspects have been arrested. One is Jose Carranza, an undocumented immigrant from Peru. Carranza had been released on bail for the rape of a child in July and for weapons charges in April. In an interview on CNN, prosecutor Paula Dow acknowledged a public uproar about Carranza’s status and the weaknesses in the Essex County criminal justice system.
The immense sadness of this tragedy is being exploited by the anti-immigrant movement. Newt Gingrich, for example, a possible Republican presidential candidate, said, “Young Americans are being massacred by illegal immigrants.” Gingrich demanded that Bush call back Congress to a special session to honor the college students and pass legislation to establish a Homeland Security database that will verify the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony.
“The war at home against illegal immigrants is more dangerous than Iraq and Iran,” Gingrich said. But statistics show that immigrants commit far fewer crimes than American citizens. Yet Internet blogs accused Latinos of “ethnic cleansing” Blacks. Talk show hosts invited any Black person they could find to confirm that immigrants were responsible for the high unemployment of African Americans, rather than racial discrimination.
Ryan Haygood, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and a resident of Newark’s South Ward, compared the present struggle of immigrants to the struggle of the 7 million African Americans who migrated from the South to the North between 1915 and 1970. Unskilled, they did the most difficult jobs and were paid lower wages than white workers for the same work, Haygood wrote in a blog. White workers accused them of “taking our jobs” and driving down wages.
Newark is New Jersey’s largest city and was once a great industrial and trade center for the region with nearly half a million residents. Between 1950 and 1960, 97,000 white residents fled the city for the newly built suburbs, while 65,000 African Americans and Puerto Ricans migrated to the city seeking better jobs and a better life. But tens of thousands of jobs left Newark for suburban industrial parks, the South and overseas. Many of the new residents never realized their dreams. Whole neighborhoods were razed and replaced with high-rise public housing. The 1967 Newark rebellion cried out for political and economic justice.
In the 1980s, the illegal drugs/guns industry filled an economic vacuum, escalating crime and homicides. Newark now has a growing population of 280,000 — 53 percent African American, 26.5 percent white and 30 percent Latino of all races. More than 28 percent of Newark’s residents have incomes at or below the poverty line. The renaissance of downtown Newark, like in many cities, has not affected most low income people.
On Aug. 25, a People’s March and Rally for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice will take place in Newark.