New Heathens
4Jan/09Off

177 James Street, Newark, NJ

I was working on a story last week about the homicide rate dropping in Newark, NJ and I had to knock on a door at 177 James Street. Now, 177 James Street is a battered building in a public housing complex. Half the windows are covered with plywood or cinderblocks, there's graffiti everywhere, syringe caps on the ground outside and the doors only open from the inside. I had gone there because I wanted to interview the family of a man who'd recently been murdered.

I walked into the parking lot between two of the three-story brick buildings and a half-dozen tough looking young men came around a corner and stared at me. Hard.

"Get out of here," one yelled. "Go away."

I had to knock on this door, I needed the interview.

"I come to see someone," I yelled back.

One of the young men squared his shoulders and marched toward me. The shouter pulled him back. "You don't want to get arrested, you don't want to go to jail," the shouter said to the marcher.

"Get out of here," the shouter repeated. "You don't want to end up dead."

I started to wonder what to do if these guys wouldn't let up. Once I got punched in the face by a woman on a cold night in Newark when I tried to ask her questions about a drive-by-shooting she'd witnessed ("Oh my god!" cried the reporter I was working with when I told her about the assault. "Did you get any information?") I wondered if identifying myself would diffuse the situation.

"I'm a newspaper reporter," I yelled back. "I don't want any trouble."

Instantly, the man's demeanor softened. "Oh! Come on then," he said, his face warming to a grin. When I approached him he held his fist out for me to bump and apologized for shouting at me.

"I thought you was here to buy drugs," he said. "This here is my project and I'm not going to let that happen."

I'd never had an experience like that in Newark. Granted, others hollered to sell me drugs as I walked around the building. But I appreciated the man who tried to chase me out when he thought that's what I'd come for. I thanked him to his face.

Maybe things really are changing in Newark.

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  1. Lol you actually believe that he was chasing you away because he thought you were buying drugs?

  2. Sigh. I was probably naive, wasn’t I? He just thought having me around was bad for business? Double sigh.


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