Police and the Black Community
Until the eruption of the Newark rebellion, there were only 145 African American police officers among a police force of 1,512, with most of the force being of Irish and Italian descent. Incidents of excessive use of police violence were constantly in the public eye, as well as unnecessary stops, humiliating searches, and other racist misuse of power. These practices left a perpetual mark of distrust and anger in the psyche of the people. The Addonizio administration ignored complaints and relied upon the police force to put down demonstrations aimed at City Hall, turning a blind eye to their heavy-handed use of authority.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Newark Community Union Project (NCUP), United Community Corporation (UCC)—the city’s War on Poverty Agency—along with other individuals (Assemblyman George Richardson) and organizations, took up the problem of police abuse of power. They, in turn, became targets for police surveillance, intervention, and violence and suffered from political retribution by the Addonizio administration for speaking out.
Nothing united the African American community like the revelation of another police shooting, like the killing of Lester Long in 1965, and others in the 1960s.
CORE and other organizations pressed demands for a police review board, which was ignored or deflected by the Addonizio administration. In July 1967, many black residents erupted to settle the score with the police upon the beating of cab driver John Smith, leading to the five day uprising many called the Newark Rebellion.
Kevin Mumford, Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Edna Thomas, in which she describes the particular abuses that Black women suffered from Newark policemen. Thomas also discusses the roles of Black police officers in supporting and protecting Black citizens in their struggles to reform police practices.
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Problems with Police
Flyer distributed by the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council announcing a picket at the Fifth Precinct on June 29, 1964. The protest was planned in response to insulting remarks made by police to residents of Hunterdon Street after they requested fair treatment and better service by police in their neighborhood. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from an interview with community leader Hilda Hidalgo, in which she describes the state of relations between police and Black and Puerto Rican communities in Newark during the 1960s. Discriminatory policing was one of the most contentious issues in Newark, as in many northern cities, during the 1960s. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Mary Smith, in which she describes a particular case of police brutality. Smith remembers receiving a call from a parent about their son being arrested and later seeing the young man in jail “very badly beaten.” — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Edna Thomas, in which she describes the particular abuses that Black women suffered from Newark policemen. Thomas also discusses the roles of Black police officers in supporting and protecting Black citizens in their struggles to reform police practices. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Clip from the film “We Got to Live Here,” in which an anonymous person describes being picked up by Newark police and beaten within the police station. There are numerous reports of Newark police beating suspects while in custody during the 1960s, most notably when Benjamin Bryant and Bernard Rich were killed while in custody in 1964 and 1965, respectively. — Credit: Robert Machover
Excerpt from the testimony of community leader Harry Wheeler before the Governor’s Select Commission on Civil Disorder on December 8, 1967. In this excerpt, Mr. Wheeler discusses the abusive practices of the Newark Police Department and describes a particular instance when he was accosted by Newark police officers. — Credit: Rutgers University Digital Legal Library Repository
Unmarked newspaper article from May 28, 1963 covering two recent cases of alleged police misconduct. The first resulted from the arrest and mistreatment of Mrs. Carrie Powell, vice principal of Hawthorne Avenue School, as she objected to the beating of a suspect by Newark police in Penn Station. The second resulted from a police shooting at the Lido Bar after an off-duty patrolman responded to a “brawl” there. These two instances are credited as propelling the continued struggle for a police review board in Newark. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Article from the New Jersey Afro-American on July 18, 1964 covering an NAACP probe of recent allegations of police brutality, specifically the death of Benjamin Bryant while in police custody. Other cases of recent police misconduct directed at Black residents of Newark are also decribed in brief. In response to these allegations of brutality, the reporter claims that “unless some immediate steps are taken to bring Newark’s ‘trigger and club happy’ police under control it is feared that the colored community will be the scene of uncontrolled violence as colored citizens will seek some means of protecting themselves from abuse.” — Credit: New Jersey Afro-American
Article from the New Jersey Afro-American on October 3, 1964 covering the case of Benjamin Bryant, who “died under mysterious circumstances while being held in police custody.” The article contains an excerpt from Mayor Addonizio’s statement to the press regarding the case and describes the actions taken by city officials to investigate Bryant’s death. After city officials side-stepped community efforts for a police review board in 1963, Bryant’s death and later instances of police abuses renewed demands for the establishment of a review board. — Credit: New Jersey Afro-American
The Shooting of Lester Long
In the early 1970s, the political influence that Amiri Baraka and the Newark Congress of African People (CAP) had in the city and the nation was swelling. Having established several successful community programs and organizations, as well as having helped to elect the first black mayor of Newark, Baraka turned his gaze to larger scale community developments, with the goal of transforming the Central Ward ghetto into a “New Ark.” The first target for Baraka’s urban development plan was a tract of urban renewal land in the Central Ward known as NJR-32, where CAP intended to develop community housing, cooperative businesses, and a host of neighborhood institutions. To Baraka and CAP, this plan was “a black nationalist alternative to the white supremacist policy of urban renewal.” However, while the project was delayed by the Newark Housing Authority, CAP and its allies found a different plot of land to develop housing on in the meantime.
In 1972, Amiri Baraka unveiled plans to build housing for low- and moderate-income people at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Delevan Street in the North Ward. On the land in this predominantly Italian American neighborhood, Baraka and CAP planned to develop a $6.5 million, 16-floor building, which was to contain over 200 apartment units, along with a theatre, day care center, and other community resources for residents. The name of the project, Kawaida Towers, was derived from the cultural nationalist doctrine of Kawaida, meaning “tradition and reason,” and reflected Baraka’s goal of promoting the development of communal living. With Kawaida Towers set to be a test run for NJR-32, Baraka assembled an impressive interracial team of architects, lawyers, and contractors and broke ground on the project in July 1972.
However quickly the plans came together, it became clear that Kawaida Towers would not be built without a fight from white residents of the North Ward. Though the project had been granted tax abatement by order of North Ward City Councilman Frank Megaro, and gained the support of Councilman-at-Large Ralph Villani and State Senator Anthony Imperiale, pickets and protests at the construction site began just days after the ceremonial groundbreaking in October 1972.
The cause of the sudden emergence of white backlash was North Ward Democratic Party Chairman Steve Adubato, who had used the ceremonial groundbreaking as a platform to publicly oppose the project. With Adubato, a major political power broker in the city, publicly challenging the project, the battle lines were drawn in the North Ward. Anthony Imperiale seized the opportunity to lead a public assault against Kawaida Towers by mobilizing members of his North Ward Citizens Committee, along with the Newark Police Department, to hold daily protests at the construction site. Initially led by off-duty police officers, the protests quickly swelled as hundreds of white protestors joined in the fray, threatening that “blood would run in the streets.”
While the crowds of white protestors, often aided by police, blocked construction workers from getting to the site, Imperiale and John Cervase filed a lawsuit against the development. In court, the two “fabricated technical objections” to the height of the building and the legality of the tax abatement, to “disguise their racial objection,” Komozi Woodard wrote. Though soundly defeated in court by the legal defense of Kawaida Towers, the opposition was taken up by the City Council, who voted to rescind the tax abatement in November 1972. Empowered by the City Council vote, the mobs at the construction site turned violent, as they blocked construction workers from entering the site, shouting racial slurs and attacking black laborers as they tried to get to work.
Though supported by an array of religious, labor, and political organizations, Baraka and CAP struggled to compete with the numbers and force that Imperiale and Adubato had mobilized in opposition in the North Ward. Furthermore, Mayor Ken Gibson, whom Baraka had helped to elect, chose mainly to stay on the sidelines of the turmoil, and had little to no control over the police department that was playing a central role in the conflict. Police Director John Redden resigned during the conflict, blaming Baraka for fomenting the racially-charged opposition to the housing project. Violence spread from the construction site, as white mobs attacked black people in the North Ward, black students were attacked in school, and shotgun blasts were fired into CAP headquarters at 502 High Street.
The violent opposition to Kawaida Towers proved insurmountable for Baraka and CAP, as the Mayor and City Council sided with the North Ward opposition to the project. Illustrating the dismay of supporters of Kawaida Towers, CAP member Saidi Nguvu said, “we had followed the law and everything was right; but they refused to build it and they physically attacked us.” By 1974, Kawaida Towers had been defeated, and in the following year, so too were the plans for NJR-32. With these crushing defeats, Komozi Woodard declared, “the Black Power experiment in Newark was over.”
In the following months, the funding for Kawaida Towers, NJR-32, and the African Free School was withdrawn, and the programs were dissolved. The Newark Housing Authority demolished the buildings that housed CAP’s theatre and television studio training program, the headquarters of the National Black Assembly, the African Liberation Support Committee, and the classrooms of the African Free School. In 1976, the $1.5 million foundation of Kawaida Towers was buried by the New Jersey Housing Finance Agency.
“The housing development would have institutionized Baraka at another level in the pantheon of political power,” Junius Williams later reflected.” “Along with the other social and educational programs he had designed and implemented, he would have become a formidable force in Newark at yet another level of power—he would have transferred from People Power to power based on position and money.”
Robert Curvin, Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation
Junius Williams, Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power
Komozi Woodard, A Nation Within A Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation member James Walker, in which he describes witnessing the police shooting of Lester Long on June 12, 1965. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Flyer distributed by the Newark branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) announcing a rally to protest the killing of Lester Long by Newark policeman Henry Martinez. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Clip from an interview with Donald Malafronte, an aide to Mayor Addonizio, in which he discusses the fallout from the shooting of Lester Long in the summer of 1965. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Reports from the Newark Police Department detailing their investigation into the fatal shooting of Lester Long. Inconsistencies in the different accounts of the shooting given by patrolman Henry Martinez caused an uproar in the city. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Newark-Essex CORE chairman Fred Means speaks at a press conference about the fatal shooting of Lester Long in 1965. At his left, is James Farmer, executive director of the national office of CORE. — Credit: Fred Means Collection