Numbers can be deceiving.
In 2012, 419 people were murdered in New York City. In Chicago, the number was a devastating 503. These two cities had the highest aggregate homicides of the year, and the vast majority of these cases were death by gun. At first glance, these numbers might lead one to conclude that major metropolises such as NYC or Chicago, which have some of the highest total gun-homicides, are our nation’s most dangerous cities. Contrary to common belief, that this conclusion is completely inaccurate.
Newark, NJ recorded 92 murders in 2012. And while this number sounds much lower by comparison, Newark is actually a far more dangerous city than either NYC or Chicago. The reason for this is because gun-homicide has to be measured in proportion to a city’s total population. NYC has 8.2 million residents. Chicago has 2.7 million. Newark has only 277,000. To accurately measure the cities that have the highest incidents of gun-homicides in relation to their populations, criminologists use the metric of murders per 100,000 residents.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, the Atlantic Magazine published an illuminating article entitled “The Geography of U.S. Gun Violence.” For the sake of context, one of the most important insights this article brings to light is the fact that despite the intense media saturation of such incidents, mass shootings such as Columbine and Sandy Hook actually account for less than 1% of the total gun-homicides that occur in America every year.
The reality is that the vast majority of gun violence in our country happens in the homes and streets of our cities, not in our schools.
The Atlantic article cites the table below from the Center For Disease Control. The table shows the ten cities in America that have the highest level of gun-homicide, in proportion with their populations. On this gruesome list, Newark, NJ ranks number five. That is to say, Newark, NJ has the fifth highest level of gun-homicide of any city in the entire United States of America.
|Cities with the Highest Rates of Gun-Related Homicides (per 100,000 people)|
|Rank||City||City Rate||Metro Rate||City/Metro Ratio|
Newark experiences well over 400 shootings a year. This means that in Newark, someone is shot or shot at, every single day.
The highest crime areas of the city are covered with symbols of violent death, and the children I teach walk past these images everyday. The photographs below are but a fraction of the total I have captured that portray this ongoing and largely unnoticed American crisis.
108. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Welcome to the West Ward. A disproportionately high murder rate has created a death-oriented niche business market in this neighborhood. Here, a store advertises one of its best-selling items: R.I.P. T-Shirts.
109. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Glamorization of gun violence is part of what keeps the cycle of death in motion.
110. West Ward – Newark, NJ. When someone is shot and killed in Newark, loved ones often create makeshift memorials of balloons, candles, stuffed animals, and posters for people to stop by and record any final words.
111. West Ward – Newark, NJ. A mind-boggling 80% of non-fatal shootings in Newark go completely unsolved. Many successful homicides also remain open, unsolved cases. Apparently, one strategy the Newark Police Department uses to try to net information about such cases is by using highway construction equipment to solicit anonymous tips from residents in the areas where the murders took place.
112. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Candles and balloons.
113. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Here we go again.
114. West Ward – Newark, NJ. And again.
115. West Ward – Newark, NJ. And again.
116. West Ward – Newark, NJ. The shrines eventually begin to wear with the weather.
117. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This is a pizza place about two blocks away from my school. Staying late one night last year, I got dinner here on my way home. Four nights later, an employee was shot and killed inside the restaurant. The place was shut down for one week. Then it opened back up. No arrests were made. The first time I stepped foot back in the place after the incident was quite a surreal experience. Someone who stood in the exact spot where I am now standing, shot and killed a living person, right here in this very space. Now I’m just patiently waiting for my order.
118. West Ward – Newark, NJ. When I took this photo, I was capturing the shrine. What I didn’t notice until later was that on the wall behind the shrine are not one, but two faded names of other victims of gun violence.
119. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Indeed, the memories of the murdered live on more enduringly in the city’s haunting and ubiquitous R.I.P. graffiti.
120. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Many are known only through their street nicknames.
121. South Ward – Newark, NJ. Literally and symbolically, many who pass by Newark never actually see this glaring crisis.
122. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Someone’s Big Bro.
123. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Someone’s life, as seen through a rusted chain-link fence.
124. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Newark’s extensive abandoned properties often serve as canvasses for R.I.P. memorials.
125. West Ward – Newark, NJ. “Hoodaville.”
126. West Ward – Newark, NJ. A stray cat cautiously looks out for Gus.
127. South Ward – Newark, NJ. Occupied.
128. South Ward – Newark, NJ.
129. West Ward – Newark, NJ. While my kids are waiting outside the main entrance to our school each morning, this is what they see across the street.
130. North Ward – Newark, NJ. In the lower right portion of this image you can see the remnants of the yellow police tape that had outlined the murder scene the night before this picture was taken. Across the street, in addition to the heart-shaped balloons, you can see the black and yellow ones which symbolize the colors of the gang whose member was slain on this corner. Members of the Latin Kings begin gathering to remember one of their own.
131. West Ward – Newark, NJ. The Brick City Brims are Newark’s preeminent Blood set. Thus, much of the “R.I.P.” graffiti throughout the city has been linguistically transformed into “B.I.P.””Rest In Peace” has become “Brim In Peace.”
132. West Ward – Newark, NJ. On the left, “B.I.P. AB” member of the 793 Bloods. To the right, “R.I.P Hoffa” member of the Brims. Notice how the word “game” is used here.
133. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Hoffa’s name is all over the West Ward.
134. West Ward – Newark, NJ. The 793 Bloods have their own variation of “R.I.P.”…”7.I.P”
135. South Ward – Newark, NJ. This photo was taken in 2012.
136. South Ward – Newark, NJ. This photo was taken in 2013.
137. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This photo was taken in 2012.
138. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This photo was taken in 2013.
139. South Ward – Newark, NJ. The minority of those who use violence to get what they want in Newark have been extraordinarily successful in intimidating the peaceful majority of residents into maintaining an unwritten code of silence that enables the former to continue to victimize the latter. This anonymous tip line advertises a $2000 reward for information that leads to an arrest on a murder charge. This poster exposes a brutal and frustrating reality: there are people who have information about someone who has committed murder, but have chosen to remain silent. If Newark is to become the best version of itself, this community dynamic will have to radically shift. Imagine a world in which people who had information about the identity of a murderer at large would contact police with the information, not for personal financial gain, but perhaps because it was, I don’t know…the right thing to do?
140. South Ward – Newark, NJ. Newark murders rarely attract media attention. A few weeks ago, five people were shot on this corner, one of them a 9-year-old girl. This is the kind of event that has to take place in order for even the local news networks to show up. On the sidewalk, students walk home from school past a scene of unspeakable violence that transpired about 18 hours earlier.
141. West Ward – Newark, NJ. The word “ironic” doesn’t even seem to fit here. Yes, this man’s street name was “Murder” and he was murdered about two months ago. “R.I.P. Murder.”
142. West Ward – Newark, NJ. And again, a large segment of America’s children walk past these scenes of violence everyday. I personally have a problem with this. Do you?