Sunday, September 20, 2009

Brick City

"This is Brick City!
Hear the gunshots, where they hate cops
On every block, there's a weed spot
This is Brick City!
Hear the gun jam, if you don't run fam-i-ly with a suntan
This is Brick City!
Hear the gun spit, niggas jump ship
Where we spit, 'cause we run shit
Play pussy wit' us
And get fucked quick
Who got the duchess?"

- Redman

Brick City (also known as Newark, New Jersey to you good folks at home) holds a special place in my heart as the cradle of my legal education whereby I learned the black letter law out of a book by day, and witnessed its practical application (or lack thereof) on the streets by night. During my three-year tour of duty in the Bricks, I saw everything from crackheads marching through 3 feet of snow just to buy another hit, to hookers at the point, to swat teams on Broad Street armed with enough firepower to occupy a third-world country. I was told by three (3) different police offers on three (3) separate occasions that not only was it was perfectly acceptable to run red lights at night, but in fact it is custom to run them just so long as I looked both ways before doing so. (See New Jersey Drive if you don't understand why this is an issue)

On my block alone in Central Ward, Newark, my roommates and I were involuntary audience members to our own reality TV version of "The Wire" which took place outside of our window every single day. A teenage boy was stabbed to death in front of our apartment - we literally witnessed his last moments. The subsequent chalk outline quickly became integrated into the common landscape; the Shabazz High School students walked over it everyday as if they were stepping over street garbage. We also witnessed several shootings on the block, a few cases of domestic violence, and, of course, the good old standard default daily drug deals from the crack dealers across the street. It got to the point where we weren't even phased by anything anymore. Actually, the most disturbing part of it all was that despite all of the aforementioned activity, we never saw a single person get arrested. Ever. Oh sure, we saw the police cruise up and down the block on the daily. We even saw a few police raids complete with helicopters and police dogs, but we never saw the police actually take anybody to jail.

I also happened to meet the mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, back when he was a mayoral candidate hoping to dethrone the infamous Sharpe James. A classmate and I approached him out in a restaurant one night off the humbug and asked him to speak at a Black Law Student Association banquet at our school that year. He agreed. Over the next few years after he won the election, Mayor Booker became a very visible figure throughout the city. Through my conversations with him, it became clear that Booker was genuinely hopeful that Newark's best days still lay ahead of it, however the tragic murder of the three college students in 2007 served as a reminder that no matter who the mayor is, Brick City will not allow itself to be changed overnight.

Nevertheless, despite everything I've just mentioned, Newark, New Jersey actually has come a long way since the days when it was known as the car-theft capital of the United States. The commercial district is booming with new business professionals, great food can be found in the Portuguese Iron Bound district, new development can be seen popping up all over the city every day, and more and more New Yorkers seeking to avoid the high rents of the City have set up shop in some of the new residential areas of Newark. Hopefully these aspect of Newark will be featured in the new documentary on the Sundance channel.

The Sundance network, along with Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, have filmed a documentary entitled "Brick City" which will begin airing for five consecutive nights at 10:00pm eastern, starting tonight (Monday, September 21, 2009) at 10pm.

Weigh in with your comments, memories, thoughts, experiences, or just anything you want to say about the "Brick City."
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