A local Latino law enforcement society might have had their recent fundraiser at an Ironbound cigar bar, but amidst the clouds of smoke, their mission was clear—get the money needed to help mold the minds of Newark students through scholarships.
The Hispanic Law Enforcement Society of Essex County raised more than $100,000 for scholarships meant to send Newark students to college at the Friday night fundraiser, held at Railroad Cigars on Pulaski Street.
Newark Police Department Sgt. George Torres, president of the society, noted the goal of the annual event.
"Sometimes, parents need help with tuition, books, or clothing. We do this on good faith," said Torres, a 23-year police veteran. "Here's a thousand dollars for your kid. Do what you got to do."
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. emphasized the growing role of the society in the community.
"In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the first group I could call to put together a local relief effort was the Hispanic Law Enforcement Society," said Ramos, the evening's honoree, who was just re-elected to a fourth four-year term. "They're growing. The percentage of Hispanic police officers in the Newark Police Department goes up with each graduating class. This event shows that they know that their work extends beyond their traditional work day. We can rely on them."
Attorney Marco Gonzalez, Jr., who previously served as the president of the state Hispanic Bar Association, noted that the organization performs an important civic function.
"It's very important to set an example and provide role models to the kids in the community. It's the right thing to do," said Gonzalez. "It also provides the ability for Hispanics to have a voice with the socioeconomic and political powers that be in the state. That's also very important."
Torres knows that the role of the police can be controversial. However, he also knows that events like this can shift impressions towards cooperation.
"I think if people put some of these biases to the side, like they expect us to, they would see that we do a lot more of this that they think," Torres said. "I grew up on Woodside Avenue in North Newark. We are all from Newark, we all grew up here, and we do care. We hold faith in the community.
"We're not superhuman We can show the community that you can do what we do, and I don't mean money," Torres added. "When they have the chance to help another child in any way they can, that's how they can repay me."