Death in Newark
In the midst of a crime wave, Newark activists turn to prayer.

Violent crime is on the rise in Newark, N.J.


Eliana Johnson

On this night, Dock is part of the prayer circle. Inside, Jackson handed her bullhorn over to Pastor Lewis Collier of Newark’s Macedonia Pentecostal Church. He sounds more like a Republican politician than one would expect in this one-party (Democratic) city. “We’re doing this to ourselves,” he says of the violence and the conditions that breed it. “We can’t blame the government or the politicians, the problem starts at home. Our kids don’t have fathers; our young men aspire to be leaders but they have no role models. Gangs have supplanted families.”

I ask Collier how he got involved with the daily prayer. “A young lady was killed down the street from my church,” he says. He heard gunshots when leaving his office on September 3. Bullets intended for somebody else had struck 24-year-old Dejaa Edwards as she talked with friends on a playground. One of the friends frantically approached Collier. “We went and we called the police and they were going to all of the wrong spots. We said no, the shooting came from the playground.” On the scene later that evening Collier found, among others, Jackson, who enlisted him in her effort.

“The reason why these kids are doing what they’re doing and why evil has erupted the way it has is because families are not structured the way they were in the Forties and Fifties and early Sixties,” Collier says. “Babies is having babies. The gentlemen that are impregnating these girls are in jail. They can’t raise families from jail. It’s not the order in which God intended it to be.”

The daily prayer vigils attract an eclectic crowd. There’s Tyrone Muhammad, the leader of Morticians That Care, who one evening placed an open coffin, with a dummy body inside, on a busy street corner. Microphone in hand, Mohammad urged blacks to stop killing one another — and to unite against whites. “How many more black men are going to have to die? How many more black women are going to have to die?” he asked. He invoked the one-time leader of the Nation of Islam: “Elijah Muhammad said that the white man is the devil! The white man is the devil,” and accused the whites of “stealing our organs” for “some cracker in the damn suburbs.”

On another night, I met Earl Best, who introduced himself as “Street Doctor.” He emerged from his car one evening wearing blue medical scrubs and a mask and, another evening, outfitted in army fatigues. I introduced myself; he told me to Google him. I did: Best is a convicted bank robber who spent 17 years in prison. Now, he tries to prevent Newark’s kids from making the mistakes that landed him behind bars.

Members of the Newark chapter of the New Black Panther party have showed up, too — Jackson chastised one young man for not having come sooner — and, after the prayer vigil, blocked off an intersection with police tape and held a rally.

Despite the efforts of Jackson and Dock, the murder rate has ticked up. After plunging in 2008, it has risen each year since, even surpassing the sorry statistics of the Sharpe James era.

But for the rest of the month, you will find Jackson and Dock on a Newark street corner at 5:00 p.m. They wrap the same way every day, with the song “Break Every Chain” streaming from a cell phone to Jackson’s bullhorn and out into the neighborhood. And they sing: “There is power in the name of Jesus, there is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.”

— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review.