Yesterday, the Jersey Journal reported this in one article:

There were 50 homicides in Hudson County in 2005, the most since 1989. Thirty-nine of those homicides happened in Jersey City — the highest city total since 1982.

And this in another article:

Amid the grisly numbers compiled in connection with 2005’s 50 homicides, there is one positive statistic: In 38 of the 50 homicides — 76 percent — investigators believe they’ve “cleared” the case, meaning they have identified the killer. Of those, 29 cases have resulted in the arrest of the person or people investigators say committed the homicide; in seven cases, investigators have issued arrest warrants; in one case, the person accused of the murder committed suicide; and, in this year’s only fatal shooting by police, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office determined it was a justified homicide.

And this to top it all off:

Shooting was the leading cause of homicides in Jersey City, claiming 21 of the 39 victims, or 54 percent; it was followed by stabbing, which claimed 10 victims, or 25 percent. Five were beaten to death, two died in arson fires, and there is one Jersey City victim whose cause of death is unknown.

As a resident of Jersey City for four years these statistics are numbing and disturbing. What is happening to the urban core and why is living here making history in the wrong direction? Over the past year you’ve read Where Babies Go to Die and Six Bucks a Life and Murder in the Jersey City Heights in order to try to give some form to the injustice and to provide some means of communicating via the White Flag of Surrender that the good people of Jersey City have had enough and we need help.

Will there ever be any sustained relief from these kinds of horrific deaths? Identifying the killers of the dead is not enough. How can we stop the killings before the trigger is pulled, before the hand becomes a fist, before the knife becomes a weapon and before the first match is struck?


  1. It’s a difficult problem. You have to start in the community. Community Watches and community policing can begin to change it.

  2. So then what? Hire more cops with bigger guns? Lots of the trouble in Jersey City is gang-related. Not all, but most, so they mainly kill their rivals and not the general population. Start on the blocks and let neighbors get their streets right.

  3. I think putting the power in the hands of the neighborhoods to police their own kind is dangerous because it tends toward lawlessness and self-help that can lead to rough street justice and that’s precisely where we’ve been — gangs policing their own turf and taking up guns when things don’t go their way or they are threatened.

  4. Cops can’t be in every neighborhood all day and all night. The second they leave the bad stuff comes right back. This needs to be solved from the inside out and that’s going to take time.

  5. It will take lots of time and lots of education. I know Jersey City didn’t turn murderous in a single year. There has been a slow degradation of the quality of life since the economic decline of post-9/11 commerce.

  6. I live in Philly. We have the same trouble here. Parents are the key. Control the kids in the home first. Then worry about the streets. Makes the cops job easier.

  7. That makes a lot of sense. Brandon.
    What do you do when the children are no longer under parental control? They can’t follow them all day long.

  8. Save havens is one thing that works pretty well here. From home and to school then to church then back to home. There are bad things in those places but kids can turn to each other to keep things going in the right direction. If everyone agrees to act good then it gets harder to go against the group.

  9. I like the idea of using peer pressure to press proper behavior into the group dynamic, Brandon! I think there’s great promise in that plan!
    Thanks for popping in here!

  10. I dont know about the state of schools in Jersey City, but in poor, predominantly black areas of San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, they are in serious disrepair and are often staffed by new teachers inexperienced with the realities of their student’s lives. The beckoning of the street is difficult to resist. Without a safe, well-appointed environment for kids to go to during the day, the street will always win. Compare a suburban public school that is well supported by parents with a urban core school that only receives money from the state, is likely in desperate need of repairs, and is likely situated in a decrepit part of town. What message does this send to kids living in the urban core? They are laregly forgotten.
    As for solutions under the current system, look at Dave LaChapelle’s Rize . Krumping , a form of dance created in the LA urban core, has provided an alternative that pulls nearly as strongly as the street. It provides an alternative means of releasing the anger and frustration from feeling forgotten, feeling like there is no escape, no hope of a better future. I believe that reducing violence rests on providing a source for this hope, whether through education or other means such as Krumping.

  11. Hi Jonathan —
    Thank you for your arresting and provocative comment!
    Yes, the schools in Jersey City and Newark are old and crumbling. In Newark there are urban schools in Black and Latino areas that haven’t had ONE BIT of updating since 1921 and they expect children to live and learn in dark Panopticons with leaky roofs and cold, dirty floors.
    I understand the street can offer a chance at getting up and out and the dangers and death is worth the risk because it likely better to be dead than to live dying among the dead.
    There isn’t much money to fix infrastructure or to build new schools. So now what? There’s no answer. They’ve been asking that question for 100 years with no solution.
    The suburbs grow and the urban core continues to decay.
    Over 70% of the commercial land in Newark pays no taxes because of city give-backs in order to keep some semblance of an urban core and that creates a mobius band of bad schools, a crumbling core, and no money to push it all up out of a moldering grave.
    The Feds came in and pumped a lot of money into Newark in the 1970’s but it was siphoned away by mob crime and corrupt political leaders and nothing was ever done to find the money or to repair the schools.
    Rize and Krumping sound like interesting alternatives. I just hope they don’t provide a misleading quick-fix dream. Sometimes boring and steady is a longer, but more sustainable, road out of the ghetto than some of the more tempting paths open now.

  12. I can feel for you.
    The city located about 5 miles from where I live, Gary, Indiana, had 60 murders last year, making it the “Murder Capital” of the nation for cities with a population over 100,000 because the number of murders per capita.
    If New Orleans hadn’t flooded and most people hadn’t left, Gary might have come in second.
    My city had 4 murders last year — a number higher than what we’re used to here, so nobody is immune from the problem of homocide.
    There is some good news, however. The murder rate has dropped significantly from the mid ’90s when it was in the triple digits. Crack was king in the ’90s and had a lot to do with the killings.
    The state of the school system in Gary is poor. In one high school, only 7% of the students passed the state’s minimum achievement exam. In area private schools, the passage rate is 100% and in richer communities scores in the high 80%-90% range are common. The Gary school board has been rocked by scandals relating to wasting funds and allegations that artwork from a valuable collection is missing.
    It all goes back to the miseducation of the children.
    If the children don’t learn how to work because people have given up, then they are almost forced into the underground economy.
    There are plenty of good people in Gary working hard to fix the problems. The police have been using their gunfire detection system to encourage people to not shoot guns. The FBI-local task force has been breaking up drug gangs that contribute to the lawlessness.
    But, most people who can get out are leaving.
    When I went to vote in 2004, I saw plenty new faces of people who had moved into new housing developments in the area. The murder rate is mostly confined to the north part of the county where the hard-core inner city exists. Most people who can get out are moving south to quieter areas with better schools for their children.
    There are predictions that Gary will fall out of the “Murder Capital” chart if the exodus continues. Some estimate that the city will have less than 100,000 people in the near future.
    The exodus that began in the ’60s can be seen in abandoned building and empty streets.
    My family went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary on New Year’s Eve and were surprised to see only a handful of people in attendance in a building designed to hold thousands. Once packed Catholic churches are now organized into 5 cluster parishes to sustain each other because of small congregations. All of the Catholic schools have closed in the city because of lack of enrollment.
    There are some signs of progress.
    A large grocery store opened in Gary recently. Banks have lots of branches in the city. Land investors from Chicago have been buying up some buildings and land with the hopes of attracting Chicagoans seeking a lower cost of living. Small businesses are popping up areas that used to be filled with empty storefronts.
    The area’s congressman has an ambitious plan to open up a lot of lakefront property on Lake Michigan to the public that has been blocked by industrial use to make living in the north part of the county attractive to people. Maybe we’ll have our own version of the “Burnham Plan” that makes Chicago so beautiful.
    Maybe we hit bottom in the mid-’90s and are starting to arise like a phoenix from the flames that burned so hot back then.
    The key to fixing the problem will be to improve the educational system so that people can see a future other than the underground economy of the street. Once people feel they will be able to have a future, they will become productive members of society.

  13. That is such a fine and well-written comment, Chris. I printed out your comment and read it twice!
    I agree we need to find a way to not only invest in children in the urban core but find a way to reinvest in them interest in gaining access to the profits of mainstream society. Your story about Gary, Indiana is touching and somewhat sad and I hope there is a way for Gary to clamber off the Murder List and into a calmer time.
    Drugs fuel a lot of the money on the street and the gangs have their own social codes that require benevolence and obedience or you pay the price of your life for not going along. The subculture trumps the societal mores of the day and that means we all lose and we all are sentenced to live in fear.
    Education, as you so rightly argue, is the only way we can get back on track and that means rebuilding and refurbishing the urban public schools and the infrastructure that must support them.

  14. Here’s a controversial hypothesis that is sometimes raised by people in our area when they speak about “the good old days” in our area.
    I don’t know if it is trading one devil for another and I don’t know if the good old days were really better than today.
    Some say that the rise in street gangs and out of control behavior started when the old-style mafia bosses were knocked out of power starting in the late ’60s and continuing through the ’80s.
    The mob was bad, but they controlled their people and all the criminal activity in an area, so goes the theory. They wanted certain types of crime to flourish, but they didn’t want their customers to feel afraid. They also wanted to operate in cooperation with corrupt police and other officials. Anything you wanted, you could get, but you didn’t have people shooting in the streets. In exchange for peace, the police would look the other way when the mob was operating its vice and other enterprises.
    When they mob’s back was broken, the void was filled with ruthless street gangs who didn’t care about operating within the bounds of society so that they could have a monopoly of crime. They gangs were disorganized crime and a lot of killing and death happened when the old-style bosses lost the ability to enforce their “codes” regarding criminal behavior.
    I don’t know if this theory is right, but I thought I’d pass it along to see if anyone had any thoughts.
    I feel the general breakdown of society had to do with the confluence of a bad economy, the loss of high paying industrial jobs in the ’80s, and the epidemic of crack that strangled the streets during the ’90s. I’m not sure that the mob could have kept control of all crime when so much was going wrong at that time.

  15. Chris —
    You raise several excellent issues of conscience and commerce here.
    I think the crack/crank/ice epidemic was inevitable and any community it touched as an economic engine was determined to undermine its social fabric and sacrifice its children.
    In New York, the old time mob from Italy did NOT want to get into the drug business — they wanted to leave it to the minorities because it would eat them out from the inside.
    The old time mob wanted quiet order in the streets, to get along with cops and politicos and to keep collecting Vig and the skim and running the harbors and garbage collection. Then John Gotti came along and saw drugs as a fast way to make quick money and rather quickly Big Paul was dead and Gotti was the head of a crass family.
    When Gotti killed Castellano, the past annulled the future. The streets invaded the suites. The animals were let out of their cages. Gotti felt he had to kill Castellano’s strict prohibition against dealing heroin. And Castellano’s lawyers were about to be given tapes, as part of pretrial-discovery material, on which Gene Gotti talked about Castellano and his own heroin-distribution ring. In Gotti’s mind, it was kill or be killed. Gotti and his crew were into topless bars, steroids, drugs, swagger, and immediate gratification.
    So one could argue drugs brought down the Gotti clan and in the void that crash created street gangs leapt in because the remaining mob realized drug dealing only was too deadly, too public and too messy to make a long-term investment.
    Dealing drugs is a quick means to unfortunate ends but in the meantime you might get momentarily rich before the process kills you.

  16. David-
    It is interesting that you should use panopticon to describe the deteriorating state of inner-city schools. I often think that urban ghettos themselves are a form of Panopticon. Policy makers look in from the outside, compiling statistics, talking about how sad it is, but making few tangible, sustainable changes.
    Its unfortunate that LBJ became mired by the inherited quagmire of Vietnam. Great Society was the closest this country has ever come to being socially progressive. Republican adminstrations since then have done everything in their power to erode the progress of GS. You mention that there isnt much to money to provide solutions. I would argue, that this is due to prioritization rather than an actual lack of money. In California, schools have steadily slipped lower and lower down the ladder of political prioritization. The Governator has bowered money from the already cash strapped schools to save face and balance the budget.
    With a progressive (call it socialist if you wish) re-distribution of wealth, there would undoubtedly be money to revitalize the urban core, provding equal access to quality education and health care. It is unfortunate that our society is so adverse to even marginally socialist minded policies

  17. You make terrific points that must be heard, Jonathan, and I thank you for brining up these tricksy topics.
    I wrote a paper called The Failure of Foucauldian Urban Schooling: Abstraction, Panopticism and the Carceral City and that paper and others can be purchased online here…
    …for those doing research or for those who are in search of some thoughtful reading.
    You are right these problems can be solved with resolve, money and people to carry out a kinder policy.
    Newark sacrificed its children to protect a dying business core.
    One major warehouse in the middle of the Newark business district is contaminated with mercury and has been since the 1960’s. It is prime real estate but no business wants to play to clean up that mess. There’s no money in the city to clean up the contamination and Superfund money was received and eaten by other “projects” and so the mercury sits there seeping deeper and deeper into the Newark core with each dawning day.
    Yes, the conservative movement gutted all of LBJ’s and JFK’s progressive plans for society and education and now they’re going back to destroy the progress and equality created by The New Deal.

  18. There are no easy answers. Thanks for providing a forum for disucssion.
    With regards to the toxic urban core, I think the East and Midwest continue to feel the legacy of heavy industry much more so than in the West. The steel and chemical industries polluted/continue to pollute many Eastern, Midwest cities and the watersheds surrounding those cities. People with the means to leave the toxic, deteriorated urban cores have left, leaving those who have no other place to go to suffer the consequences of industrial negligence and governmental inaction. There is a palpable sadness and death in the air of historically industrial cities (Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, parts of Philadelphia…), the core lifeless and abandoned.
    I am currently reeling from the costs associated with applying to graduate school and consequently am strapped for expendable cash. I would love to read some of your material and will keep it in mind for the future.

  19. Hi Jonathan —
    Yes, the West certainly has a different social and industrial temperament than the East or Midwest and it was the final destination for many pioneers who ran out of land on their Westward migration.
    California is a curious mix of philosophies and environments and serves a sanctuary of last resort for those who care about the land and water and air around them.
    Good luck on your graduate school applications. Are you going for PhD or an MD or something else? What is your area of interest? Which programs are most appealing to you?

  20. I recently read an article about legal trends that are “under the radar” but that promise to become major issues in the coming years.
    The number one problem facing rural America today is the rise of crystal meth. It seems to forecast a trend that mirrors what happened with the urban core when crack was introduced into the neighborhoods.
    The article in the ABA Journal said that a majority of people in the criminal justice system in the countryside have some sort of involvement with meth or other drugs. The statistics were staggering — if I remember correctly, around 80% or more of people in trouble were on meth in some areas.
    I wonder if we will see a decline in the rural areas to match the decline in the urban core as highly addictive and cheap drugs boil the minds of users.
    It seems a lot of societial decay falls at feet of poor educational systems that doesn’t prepare people for work and success in life. People are hardly taught to think or imagine. I imagine that some rural school systems kill the souls of children just as much as the urban school systems do.
    Once people feel hopeless, they wish to escape. If you are poor in the inner city or in the country the one avenue of escapism happens to be drugs. Instead of picking up a book to read about distant lands, or dreaming of being successful, people take the “pipe dream” of instant gratification.
    I hope meth doesn’t become the next great scourge that ruins millions of lives throughout the country.
    I also hope it doesn’t become widespread in the urban core.

  21. Hi Chris —
    Yes, meth is everywhere in the heartland and it is rotting out families and teeth and guts and it is cheap and quickly takes you out of the parameters of a dismal life. Drugs are indeed about escape for those without imagination and, as you argue, people need to be taught how to think outside their bodies.
    One easy way of thinking outside the body to read — but many people today do not read fiction — people are reading factual renderings of reality and technical books.
    The role of the Arts in society is to interpret life and to bring meaning to experience without having to falsely alter body chemistry to experience humanity in a new way.
    One great terrible thing about heroin over crack is the effect is has on the user. Crack makes people crazy and unpredictable and that is a dangerous combination — especially when they need another fix.
    Heroin users, on the other hand, are tranquil. In the middle of a high they nod out and become immobile and when the drug wears off they get dope sick and become even more incapacitated.

  22. The Meth situation is tricky, I talked about it here . Included in the post are a couple of good links. Incarceration rates are not neccesarily indicative of actual usage.
    I am applying for PhD. programs in Systems/Synthetic Biology. I am interested in ‘biological design’ and systems level approaches to complex problems in biology. MIT is by most appealing with Caltech a close second.

  23. Hi Jonathan!
    Thanks for the excellent links to your site and on your site!
    Good luck on your PhD schooling! You have some excellent choices and I wish you all the best and if you need any help on anything, let me know. You are in an exciting field!

  24. David-
    Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, its exciting but still somewhat unproven. It should be interesting, but time will tell if it a wise career decision. Had I come upon Urban Semiotic prior to the application process I may have enlisted your help for crafting my personal statement, but all is done now…just waiting.

  25. I lived there for 13 years. Its gotten very bad in the heights and all over. I need a favor please, can some one email the year 2005 Jersey city crime rate? The total murders,burglaries,aggravated assaults, arson etc. Im doing a report on jersey city crim and it will be a big thong and published. my email is

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