FIGHT BREAKS OUT AT NEW JERSEY ANTI-VIOLENCE RALLY - YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS S#!T UP!
Fight breaks out at Newark anti-violence rally
Abdul Muhammad, bottom, is pushed down to the ground by Tyrone Barnes, in the red jacket, after Muhammad was separated from community activist Donna Jackson when the two got in a heated argument.
Violence breaks out on the steps of Newark City Hall during an anti-violence rally. Wednesday December 30, 2015. Newark, NJ.
NEWARK — A skirmish broke out between rival activists on the steps of City Hall Wednesday during what had been intended as a demonstration against violence in Newark.
Police were called to the scene after a small crowd began arguing over escalating violence and the city's attempts to curb it.
The noon press conference was called by a group of activists led by Salaam Ismial, co-chair of the New Jersey Study Commission on Violence, and Abdul Muhammad, a longtime Newark anti-violence activist. In a release announcing the event, the two said they planned to ask Mayor Ras Baraka to "unleash his quality of life plan in addressing ongoing violence facing Newark residents."
As the group spoke to reporters, however, a group of Baraka supporters including activist Donna Jackson and Tyrone "Street Counsel" Barnes began heckling and shouting from the base of the steps.
It soon evolved into an intense face-off between Jackson and Muhammad, which then erupted into a skirmish between members of the two camps. At one point, Barnes put his hands around Muhammad's neck and pushed him to the ground.
Organizers and other participants said the skirmish lasted only a few minutes, and there were no serious injuries.
Councilman Ras Baraka holds a press conference, Dec. 20, 2013, in Newark with the Alnisa Reeds, the mother of Kasson Morman, one of the two teenagers killed Christmas night. Baraka called for a ceasefire among the city’s gangs, he also called for a quick response by the city and the state to comb the streets in Newark and curb the increasing violence in the city on Newark. Kasson Morman's mother, Alnisa Reeds, said a few words, asking for justice for all the victims including her son. (Video by Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger)
In an interview after the event, Ismail said he hoped his group's message would not be lost due to the physical altercation. He stressed that they were not protesting Baraka - who often took part in rallies to protest city violence during Mayor Cory Booker's term - but merely urging him to outline plans to combat the surge of bloodshed that has catapulted the homicide total for 2015 to 104.
"The mayor was one of them. He's part of that community. He understands it, he understands the frustration," he said.
"For all intents and purposes, this hurt the possibility that Newark can have in addressing this problem once and for all. Until there's some sense of a unified front among the leaders, there's never going to be an impact on the people at large."
Though the rally took place outside City Hall, Newark spokeswoman Marjorie Harris said the city was not directly involved in the rally or the disturbance.
"It was simply a community coalition," she said. "None of the city's employees...were involved with it."
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Baraka said the scuffle is being investigated by the Newark Police Department, and that the rally was held without a city permit.
Baraka said that the rally should not have been held in Newark at all, noting that Ismial is from Elizabeth.
"While we appreciate their concern for the citizens of Newark, it would have been more appropriate for Mr. Salaam Ismial, the coordinator of this event, to bring to light the issue of violence in their town, by doing so in their town," he said in the statement.
A Newark police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident. Attempts to reach both Jackson and Barnes were not immediately successful.
In his statement, Baraka also noted that Muhammad once worked for the city.
"It was also disheartening to learn that a former Newark municipal employee, Mr. Abdul Muhammad, was the instigator in a confrontation with another well-known Newark community activist and was allegedly pivotal in the ensuing melee," he said.
"The actions of this Elizabeth-based group discredit the efforts of so many who are committed to speaking out against violence in the neighborhoods and streets of both cities."
A spokeswoman for the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, a prominent community organization, confirmed that about 12 members of the group attended the rally. But, the spokeswoman, who identified herself only as Tasha, said the group did not organize the rally or take part in the fight.
The disturbance comes as Newark leaders are in the midst of implementing a "public safety" department that will oversee police, fire, and emergency services in Newark. The new department, which will be headed by Essex County Prosecutor's Office Chief of Detectives Anthony Ambrose, was created in part to combat spiking levels of violence in the city, officials said.
Minister Thomas Ellis, who heads the Newark "Enough is Enough Coalition" and had joined Ismail and Muhammad at the press conference, said he was disappointed that what he characterized as an simple stand against violence had devolved into a political feud.
"People were speaking out two years ago or whatever, but now there's not a lot of people speaking out. Everybody knows the reason," he said.
"Today we stood on the steps of City Hall to show that black lives matter in Newark, and it turned out ugly."