Self-Described 'Prisoner Of Hope' Fights Violence
MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
But first a news maker interview with Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey where three people were killed early Tuesday during a bloody morning, where six people were shot in four separate incidents. This comes after years of success in bringing down Newark's notorious crime rate. But now the city finds itself facing a summer of violent and other crimes. Mayor Booker who was first elected in May of 2006 and reelected in May 2010 talked about this issue in June as he announced the new Safe Summer program to fight crime.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
CORY BOOKER: This is not a reflection of the capacity and strength and power that we have as a people. This to me was not a time or not a result of individuals who we can blame. The truth of the matter is there's no more time for finger pointing. There's no more time for blame. It's time that we as a community take a greater and greater responsibility for what is going on.
MARTIN: I caught up with Newark mayor Cory Booker as he was traveling yesterday on his way back to Newark and I asked him about the mood of the city after the shootings.
BOOKER: Well, I think people are really upset. It all happened within a 45-minute stretch in three different locations. There were three different murders. One was a domestic violent incident, where a man shot a woman who was involved with over a fight, and then two were narcotics related. So, everybody's got a heavy heart and it's a very frustrating when you make so much progress, especially as we did during the month of June and then you have 45 minutes that cast a shadow over what was happening and how much we were moving forward.
MARTIN: We actually talked to you last April 2010 when this city had just enjoyed its first month without a homicide since 1966. Since then the city like a lot of cities and states around the country it has to be said has experienced some serious budget problems and as part of that more than 160 police officers were laid off and I'd like to ask you what role do you think that plays in what is going on now?
BOOKER: So, we now have about five weeks where we've shown we can reverse those trends. Last night was tragic but I'm telling you we are more determined than ever. I've been in conference calls with my police director, chief of staff, other leaders from the community this morning and everybody is not deterred. We're going to show by the end of this summer that we can drive down murder by much more than 25 percent.
MARTIN: Why wouldn't those two be a related phenomenon? Why wouldn't the lay offs be related to what you're seeing now?
BOOKER: I really do believe that when you have challenges it's a challenge to your moral imagination and your creativity as a community. And right now what we see happening in the last five weeks of June 1st is that we are actually meeting the challenges and driving down the numbers.
MARTIN: What's your take on this?
BOOKER: And in this case a young man who had - a 13-year-old who had been in trouble with the police a number of times before, why weren't there more of a community response the first time the young man got in trouble, that prevented him from living a life of real danger on the streets.
MARTIN: You talked about the fact that many of things that Newark is experiencing are in fact being experienced elsewhere around the country that might be one of the reasons why you have a very large national profile. Your time as mayor has been chronicled in the award winning television documentary series "Brick City." The second season just wrapped up earlier this year on the Sundance channel. I actually just will play a short clip from the series if you don't mind for people who to refresh peoples memories about it.
BOOKER: This is a scene where you're talking with your advisors about the city budget.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BRICK CITY")
BOOKER: If it stinks kill it, if it jiggles, cut it. And then after that's done, then we got to go into the bone and the muscle now. We just need 20. We need to.
BOOKER: Stop selling me the love. Right now for this budget as much as I can squeeze everything else but police and fire. Every department we have to go through and just say too much, too much. I don't know how you're going to do it, you need to find a way or else we're going to find a way.
MARTIN: One of the things that I was wondering is that you have this big national profile and I wonder if in some ways does that work against you, where people might think that you have magical powers that people may have outsized expectations for what you can accomplish in part because so many people around the country look to you and I wonder do you ever think about that?
BOOKER: If we want a country that's different, we ourselves have to take responsibility. And we're not be called to storm beaches in Normandy, we're not be called to get on buses and do freedom rides. But we must in our country realize that there's a crisis in America, a crisis in our schools, a crisis of violence, a crisis of imprisonment. And if we don't change things, these things are like cancers in our country, and they're going to begin to eat up at the soul of America..
MARTIN: Finally, Mr. Mayor, before we let you go, this has to be - this is a discouraging night, as you said. You're disappointed about, you know, what happened. This has to be a discouraging moment. How do you keep your city's spirits up at a time like this - and your own, for that matter?
BOOKER: And so every day when I get discouraged like today, I just have to look around in my city and see these people - the fearless face, the most determined love and unyielding - a sense of self-sacrifice that are still every day getting up, despite three murders in a night and going back to work. Having the courage to day after day work with a child, mentor a child, get involved in their community and say we will never ever here in Newark, New Jersey, never ever give up on the dream of America.
MARTIN: Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. We caught up with him on the phone on his way back to Newark from Aspen, Colorado where he was attending the Aspen Ideas Festival. Thank you so much for joining us.
BOOKER: No, thank you so much. I'm a big fan of your program, and I appreciate the chance to be on it.
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