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Rival Newark gangs sign ceasefire

By Corey Muhammad | Last updated: Jun 1, 2004 - 3:37:00 PM

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NEWARK ( - After a two-year struggle to quell the rising tide of violence that has consumed this city, more than 200 members of two major gangs turned out to sign a historic ceasefire, vowing to exhaust all possible avenues available in order to live in peace.

The agreement, signed at the Broad Street offices of the Newark Housing Authority, was the culmination of three months of intense meetings between the two gangs that were initially held at the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad’s Mosque No. 25, but eventually expanded to community centers and other locations.

The tough streets of Newark have been center stage in the last few years for the gangs to play out strikes and counterstrikes against one another. The time has come, as one gang member put it, to change the reality of their everyday lives.

“A lot of things have to change,” said Face, a Blood leader and founder of Saving Our Souls, an organization to help gang members become productive. “It won’t happen overnight, but we’re going to have to work on it,” said the 33-year-old father of three. He added that he wants to see his children grow up and it was up to all interested parties to stop the violence. “We’re about peace right now. We extend a hand to you all and I hope you extend a hand to us,” he said.

Blaze, a Crip member who worked on the agreement, represented a ray of hope to the crowd. He now works making $27 an hour doing something he admittedly has no idea about a remark that elicited laughter from the crowd. He said he realized his position represents an opportunity for other gang members. “If I do good, it will open up the door for some of you, but it will take time,” he said.

Minister Michael Muhammad, of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 25, was one of only two non-gang members to speak to the capacity crowd. Ras Baraka, deputy mayor of Newark, was the other. In his brief remarks, the Muslim minister stressed four points, including the gang’s role in the scriptures of the Bible, the enemy’s role of trying to disrupt the peace process and the nature of peace in the creation of man. He admonished the gangs that they must work hard to sustain the fragile peace.

“In order for us to have peace, we can’t do things to break peace,” he said.

Although he played an integral part in bringing the parties together, along with David Muhammad, the deputy mayor refused to take any credit for the ceasefire. “This meeting is not a cheerleading thing. It’s not a zoo or a parade or a circus,” he said.  “It’s about people’s lives. I live in Newark. I take no credit for this,” he added.

There were high hopes for success on both sides. After years of constant tension and violence, the gangs seemed to welcome the agreement as every speaker was interrupted with cheers and applause from the crowd. A few members cited the fact that the rival gangs were assembled in a packed room without any guns or knives. It was testament to the trust they have in the security that was provided by the Nation of Islam and to their dedication to peace.

Byron “Boogie” Kelley, who was instrumental in organizing the meeting, said he hopes to duplicate the treaty in the prisons where there has been recent clashes between the Bloods and Crips. A Mother’s Day melee left five correction officers injured and one gang member in the hospital after he was stabbed.

The two groups were housed in two separate facilities, but for the last two months they have been placed in the same cell block at a new $410 million state-of-the-art jail, according to Essex County Warden, Keith Muhammad Abu Bakr Ali. Exacerbating already existing problems is what has been termed the “blue flu”—where officers who object to the housing arrangements have called in sick in very large numbers, posing security problems. Mr. Ali, who was in attendance, said he also hoped the efforts would be a role model for other cities throughout the country.

Also in attendance were Councilwoman Bessie Walker, Vice President of Newark Public Schools Pat Council, Frederick Bey of the Million Man March, Million Women’s Coalition of Newark and Sergeant DeLacy Davis, president and founder of Black Cops against Police Brutality (B-CAP).

Following the meeting, Min. Muhammad said he was optimistic that the ceasefire will work, because it was initiated by the gangs. “They sought us only to help them and for our guidance,” he said, while acknowledging that there are forces working against the peace process, but added that there are people in positions to help make it a success. The deputy mayor agreed.

“It’s important to keep building. We’re developing and organizing programs to keep them active and also to let the community see they’re coming together,” he said.

To help gang members fulfill their pledge, Sergeant Davis, of the East Orange Police department, called on community and political leaders. “Political leaders must now do their jobs by bringing the resources for jobs for these young people. An important thing to remember is that they were not asking for something for nothing. They want to learn trades so that they can reconstruct their community.”

Moved as she witnessed the signing of the treaty, Ms. Bey said she was glad that the gangs had a sense of history as they desired to bring back the “old Newark of Black progress, of Black excellence. It really moved me when I heard them talking about the Ku Klux Klan letter. The one that said that the KKK was happy to see that Blacks were willing to kill each other and that they could save their bullets.” It added years to her life, Ms. Bey said, and she thanked “the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan for his steadfastness with the young people—for it’s his shoulders that we all stood on,” she added.

The 10-point agreement was signed by 11 gang members and two witnesses. It calls for an immediate ceasefire; the end of using Ks in hand signals or graffiti that calls for, or insinuates the killing of, a member of another organization; all public places to be designated as neutral zones; notification of entrance into each others’ territories to avoid suspicion of conflict; not to use the peace agreement as a cover for violence against each other; to actively work to become educated, computer literate and to learn trades to aid in the reconstruction of the community; to work side-by-side to live in harmony; to use every nonviolent means to resolve all past, present and future conflicts and to use Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka, Byron “Boogie” Kelley, Muhammad’s Mosque No. 25 and Saving Our Selves, Inc. as mediators in future conflicts.