Public Safety in Public Hands

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Over the last 50 years, nearly every public service in the U.S. has been defunded, shrunk and starved, with the exception of law enforcement. Now, at a turning point in the nation’s tolerance for racism, inequality and police brutality, organizers and civic leaders are demanding we shift power and resources away from policing and cruelty and towards investing in public health, caring and community control. Here, director Aqeela Sherrills explains how the Newark Community Street Team (NCST) in collaboration with the administration of Mayor Ras Baraka, has adopted a community-wide public health approach to public safety and security. After six years, their work is having an impact, and violence and “crime” rates are down. As the nation begins talks of divestment from the police and investment in Black communities, the NCST is a standing model of what can be done now.  “The reality,” says Sherrills, “is you can’t have public safety without the public.” We need public safety in public hands.

The Newark Community Street Team was also the focus of this week’s full-length episode of The Laura Flanders Show. Click here to check it out.

The NCST employs residents of Newark communities as credible messengers in a relationship-based strategy to address violence and crime in the city. Newark, like many cities around the country, has seen large protests following the killing of George Floyd. The NCST has been in the field, ensuring the protests remain peaceful. Sherrills explains that the changes that happened in Newark can happen elsewhere, but it takes leadership. It’s not about teaching cops to be nice, he says, it’s about changing public policy and investing in communities.