Law & Justice

Amid a Bloody Summer, New Brunswick Asks How to Stop the Killings

d5164a1cd648d1c677ae_violence_forum_1.jpg
New Brunswick residents and people from neighboring communities packed the second-floor Masonic temple to discuss how to quell violence in the area
c3db78ee77629c2f8d5a_violence_forum_3.jpg
Tormel Pittman greets the crowd, calling for people to take greater care of all young people in the neighborhood
d5164a1cd648d1c677ae_violence_forum_1.jpg

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — From the raised stage of the second-floor Masonic temple on Hale Street, Jose Negron turned his head toward the window. He looked at the very spot where his son was killed almost five years ago.

Joshua Negron was 24 when he was murdered on a late Monday night in November 2012, according to reports. He was shot on the corner of Hale Street and Remsen Avenue at a candle-light vigil for a teenager who was stabbed to death there just days earlier. Two weeks before, the surviving Negron said, a young woman was killed steps away.

“We don't think it'd ever happen to us, but it does,” Negron said last Thursday, Aug. 17, to roughly 100 people in the temple, above the Progressive Lodge, as electric fans hummed against the summer heat. “Every time since then, when I hear that someone got killed, it touches my heart like never before.”

Sign Up for E-News

Negron said he, too, could've picked up a gun and went after his son's killer. But instead, he earned his high school diploma, enrolled in Middlesex County College and began to train up-and-coming boxers. His success, he said, was retribution in its own right.

“If you got the opportunity to make a difference in somebody's life in the community and you not doing it,” the emotional father said, “you wasting time.”

Negron was one of many speakers to take the mic that night. They came to the Hale Street hall for an “emergency” community forum to begin healing and addressing the violence that has tarnished New Brunswick and nearby towns, like Franklin Township, not just this summer, but for years. They hoped to forge a new path forward.

Tormel Pittman, a neighborhood activist, led the gathering alongside City Council President Glen Fleming. Anyone who's been to a few council meetings has likely seen the two men spar, sometimes loudly and often passionately, about local issues, especially those affecting the African-American community. But the two appeared united last week, bonded by a common struggle that they had resolved to overcome.

Jose Negron speaks about the pain he felt after his son's murder

As New Brunswick's downtown and student neighborhoods flourish, other areas still regularly reckon with tragedy. When bullets fly and blood sheds, some speakers said, it can feel like residents of violence-stricken areas are on their own.

This summer, for instance, saw several people gunned down and killed in the Hub City.

A 31-year-old was slayed in his car last Friday, a day after the forum, on Fulton Street. A 51-year-old woman was injured in a shooting the next day, though she's expected to live.

Before that, in Somerset, an 18-year-old shot a woman of the same age, and she died less than an hour later, police alleged. Earlier this month, three men with handguns committed a carjacking, and a group of people beat two men on Hamilton Street, cops said. In July, Desiree Alvarado, 38, was murdered on 7th Street, according to police.

Ashton Burrell said the community must begin to heal

Before last week's meeting began, Alvarado's cousin stood outside the lodge. She fought tears while discussing her loved one's murder with a reporter. But she also spoke optimistically about a planned block party to bring neighbors together.

That sort of attitude dominated much of the evening. Grieving parents spoke of their slain children, but then they pivoted to possible solutions. Local business, civic and religious leaders mourned the dead and then offered meeting spaces, free services and jobs to New Brunswick's young people.

“Nobody knows how to stop violence and crime … We all had something better to do tonight, but we came here, obviously, because we don't got the answers,” Pittman, the organizer, said at one point. “We're here because we're trying to make a difference.”

Each person who promised to try to make that difference in some concrete way was met with applause. Pittman himself brought two young men who were selling shirts and other items to the front of the room. He had given them their first job.

Pittman brought his two workers before the crowd, which applauded the young men

But the sort of violence endemic to New Brunswick requires an even greater effort, Pittman said.

The shootings and assaults are often carried out not just by an individual, but a person who's acting on behalf of a gang, he said. The deadly disputes might arise from drugs, turf or a long-lasting beef, he said.

He said he once got several young rivals to sit down at a local mosque. After they ditched their guns, they ate food and began to talk. By the summit's end, they'd realized that their disagreements were based more in rumor than fact.

Since then, none of those men has yet to shoot another, Pittman said.

Residents didn't need to look hard for a positive role model to local kids. Ashton Burrell, a young man from Highland Park, who chairs its Human Relations Commission, helped to lead the forum that night. A performer and former football player, he gripped the audience, urging parents and kids alike to take a stronger role in civic life and guiding young people.

“After a while, you start to get used to it,” he said of society's ills. “If we started to get used to the right things, we will get right.”

Lana Whitehead, a former basketball star and founder of the life-coaching service Sharpened Mindz, discusses how she can help the community

Redemption was also on display.

Pittman said he used to hustle on the streets. Even without a high school diploma, he has since turned his life around and become a well-known activist in New Brunswick.

Boris Franklin, meanwhile, said he did 11 years in prison, leaving his son behind. But he now works with a parole-to-college program, helping felons return to their neighborhoods. He's on the dean's list at Rutgers University. He speaks at colleges about his past violence—and how he came out on the other side.

“I came back to clean up a mess I helped create,” Franklin said. “And anyone who did violence here should do the same.”

New Brunswick City Council President Glen Fleming said it's time for the community to come together for the sake of its young people

Fleming, New Brunswick's council president, knows all too well how violence can harm a family. A teacher in another school district, he lost two students this year. His cousin was also killed on city streets.

But past tragedies don't prevent a better tomorrow, Fleming said. To that end, he announced plans for a march from Franklin and into New Brunswick, with rallies at each end, to call for an end to the killings. Organizers also plan to host regular forums going forward.

“We're going to storm the streets like this area has never seen,” Fleming said. “We have to put demands on people right now,” calling for everyday people to step up.

Tina Riley knows why that's so important. Her son Joell “Jozy” Burton, who lived in the Paul Robeson Village, was shot and killed in 2014. He was 17.

Last week, she tearfully echoed what she has said since his murder: “God give life, and let no man take it away.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

East Brunswick

Vets4Warriors Gives Struggling Veterans a Lifeline

February 18, 2018

Fatima Aguilar’s first day on the job at Vets4Warriors was anything but normal. A military veteran who’s currently enlisted as a Second Lieutenant with the New Jersey National Guard, she found herself in a potential suicide crisis situation as soon as she hit the phones.

“I started around three and a half years ago on the overnight shift, and my very first call was a US ...

South Brunswick: Volunteer Soccer Coach Charged With Possessing And Distributing Child Pornography

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – A volunteer youth soccer coach and former Sunday school teacher is charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, officials said Thursday.

FBI agents and local law enforcement arrested Waldo Milla-Guerra, 49, at his Kendall Park home Thursday morning after executing a search warrant, officials said.

Milla-Guerra, a volunteer soccer coach with the ...

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

Guest Column

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred yesterday. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The ...

Diegnan: Computer Science Now Required in New Jersey Schools

February 23, 2018

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick Diegnan to require school districts to offer course in computer science and Department of Education to adopt changes to NJ Student Learning Standards in computer science has been signed into law.

 

“To flourish in tomorrow’s digital economy and society, our children should be learning computer ...

Upcoming Events

Sun, March 4, 3:00 PM

State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick

Staatskapelle Weimar

Arts & Entertainment

Fri, March 23, 8:00 PM

State Theatre New Jersey , New Brunswick

Motown the Musical

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, April 7, 2:00 PM

State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Arts & Entertainment

East Brunswick Public Library Holds South Asian Community Day of Wellness

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ— On Saturday, March 3, Cancer Support Community Central NJ Jersey (CSCCNJ) will be hosting a Day of Wellness at the East Brunswick Public Library (2 Jean Walling Civic Center, ). This program is part of CSCCNJ’s South Asian outreach initiative, which is made possible by the Shri Krishna Nidhi (SKN) Foundation.

The Day of Wellness is being offered at no ...

Library Hosts Program On Joint Replacement Surgery

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ—East Brunswick Public Library (2 Jean Walling Civic Center) and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital partner to present the special medical program “Considering Total Joint Replacement in 2018” at the library on Tuesday, March 6 at 7 pm.

Lead by board certified orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Kayiaros, the program gives a brief overview of arthritis of ...

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn McCrumb

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn McCrumb (Altria, 2015)

 

Years later, after the tragedy, someone remembered the Dumb Supper and what had happened there. That was the cause of it, they said, because the ritual wasn't a game after all. It really was magic, but magic has rules, and she broke them. Even when they call it a 'senseless tragedy,' people always try to find a ...

Super Carb Diet by Bob Harper

Super Carb Diet by Bob Harper with Danny Pellegrino (St. Martin's Press, 2017)

It's hard to go on a serious diet, one on which you expect to be successful and maintain a loss. Fortunately, in his new book Super Carb Diet, Bob Harper has given the weight watching world a sensible new diet plan to help achieve a healthy weight.

Harper, host of NBC's popular show The Biggest Loser, ...

EBPD: Safeguarding Students, Staff, and Residents in the Public Schools

February 20, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The East Brunswick Police Department, in cooperation with the East Brunswick Board of Education, will be assisting the school security staff by providing police officers at our township public schools. It is the goal of the East Brunswick Police Department and the East Brunswick Board of Education to safeguard our students, staff and residents at our schools on a daily basis ...

'What Stays' exposes family secrets and lies

‘What Stays’ exposes family secrets, resentment and lies

By Liz Keill

SUMMIT, NJ – In an original play by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre has provided an enlightening, funny and heart-felt view of family foibles.

Ekstrand has said that the germ of the play came from conversations with the ensemble members of the troupe, based on ...