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Crime Fighters

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Forget about grievance policies and transfer rules—the teachers union in Newark, New Jersey, has more important things to worry about these days. The union recently paid for six billboards in the city that read “HELP WANTED: STOP THE KILLINGS IN NEWARK.” At least 106 people have been murdered in the city of 227,000 in the past year—a wave of violence that the union says has become a grim working-conditions issue for educators. Some 100 teachers have resigned or retired from Newark schools since September, and in a recent poll, the union’s members cited improving safety and preventing violence in schools as second in importance only to salary and benefits issues. “Who’s going to send their daughter or son to teach here?” asks union president Joseph Del Grosso. Some residents—and apparently the mayor’s office—have objected that the billboards project a negative image of the city. Del Grosso just hopes they will spur action: “Maybe these billboards aren’t the solution, but at least it’s calling attention to the need for a solution.”

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Most people in the city who are familiar with both the union and Mr. Del Grosso know that it's a shell game. The new mayor and council have started a whole series of public safety programs to combat crime since they assumed office last summer. And compared to the same time last year, crime is actually down. I live downtown, and it's quite safe. In many ways, people who "know" about Newark have no idea what they are talking about. Crime needs to go down more, of course, but it is concentrated in just a few high-activity areas, not an all out war zone like so many think.

This is the real reason for the signs: the Newark Teachers' Union and their president Del Grosso want to shame the mayor and council because Mayor Booker supports charter schools and school choice, which the union opposes deeply. He also wants to return the schools to mayoral control (right now Newark public schools are run by the state). With an abysmal graduation rate of 39%, you would think that the union would appreciate the need for change, but it has taken an relentlessly confrontational stance against anything the mayor does.

If this is supposed to help stop the violence, why don't the billboards list any resources or useful information? Arguably the union could have done more to combat violence by sponsoring after-school programs with the tens of thousands of UNION DUES dollars it is spending on this alarmist campaign of intimidation. Furthermore, Joseph Del Grosso hasn't even lived or taught in Newark for over 20 years. He lives in Nutley, a suburb who's latest claim to fame is being the subject of a lawsuit for not allowing blacks and Latinos into the city pool. Can he really be trusted to speak in the best interest of Newarkers? All my neighbors are furious about this.

I don't think the mayor is perfect, but he is in the right on this one. He works extremely hard and I see him and other city officials everywhere trying to get a handle on what people are thinking, and encouraging Newarkers to take responsibility in taking back their neighbrhoods. The new police director is doing a huge amount of work on decreasing crime, and this slime campaign is utterly useless and exploits the victims of violent crime for a political ploy!

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