From 7th to South 11th

By Damian Haynes

The Newark I have seen and heard is a city that punches with haymaker-force above its weight and that possesses a negative and positive reputation that precedes itself. I have seen the city on lists ranging from “filthiest” to “most dangerous to “best foods” and “best hooping slashers.” It is a varied city, a stew of controlled chaos, one that is intensely and unabashedly Black, that is still influenced by America’s mother Europe, tinged with flavor the Portuguese and Italian reservoirs of cultures. 

You can see this very easily in the city’s architecture, most glaringly in the Downtown district. The Main Branch of the Newark Public Library on Washington Street, for instance, within an eyeshot of the phallic behemoths of the business headquarters that flank Broad Street. The library⁠—now functioning not only as a library but also as a museum, lecture hall, and for some citizens, a sort of homeless shelter⁠—was inspired by the Palazzo Strozzi, a 15th-Century palace built in Florence for the Strozzi family to assert the opposition to and strength against the Medici family. 

It is not unlike many other post-industrial Black cities in this country, especially the ones in the North that saw influxes of Black people due to the Great Migration. The death of industry, the death of labor by hand, like St. Louis or Baltimore, really did us in. Fewer people were needed for labor to be completed, and profit to be generated, turning labor into just another cost that could be shaved in half, and in turn, caused Newark to spiral into poverty, curiously around the same time that the Black population rose. More than half of the city became Black, and much of the city was poor. In the nineties, Newark had the reputational stench that would manifest itself into headlines such as “America’s Worst City”, “Murder Capital”, and “Car Theft Capital of the Country”. Much of this was true but only to an extent. It is no surprise people on the outside never asked “Why?”; they just looked on into the perverted horror, seemingly aroused as another car was broken into or another building stood decaying and vacant or as another black-skinned nobody lay in the street bleeding with his limbs twitching, suspect still at large. They made their assessments and changed the channel on their television sets, they lived their South Orange life without ever thinking of taking South Orange Avenue up north, a street where you can nearly see the town’s border, where you can almost see the switch from affluence to nothingness.

I pay no attention to the supposed renaissance of the city, about which you will hear enough from the new leaders of such an economic and cultural revitalization. I’m no economist. I am no political philosopher. I am no expert on this city. I am simply a citizen, one born and bred here who wishes the best for every single one of the more than 300,000 fellow Newark citizens. I want to smile about it. I want to be optimistic about the city—I do—but damned if my father didn’t raise a Brick City pessimist and damned if I don’t see what I see. I’ll be damned if I don’t worry. I remember that this city once, very recently, boasted that not a single shot had been fired by the Newark Police Department in the year 2020—albeit a year of pandemic lockdowns. I remember the initial happiness that I felt while reading such a headline. Sign of changing times and shifting tides? No? No. I know that juking stats is a thing, and I know that any police commissioner knows how to do it, so these sorts of things can’t warm me to the core and tint my eyeglasses with rose color as it may intend to, the reason for that is simple.

Just before beginning this piece, I read an article by Steve Strunsky, a writer for It spoke about a state grand jury’s decision not to indict a Newark police detective, Rod Simpkins, for the fatal shooting of Carl Dorsey III, mere minutes into New Year’s Day 2021. Carl was 39, and a father of three. At least the city got its headline, right? Many things having to do with this situation depress me, but none of them surprise me, which I think is more telling, at least for me, in that he says a lot to me, about what living in this country has caused me to expect out of my own country, and the city which I rep with such sophomoric and immature pride.

As the article and surveillance street camera footage (no bodycam footage, mind you) illustrates, the shooting occurred after unmarked police vehicles were responding to what sounded like gunshots. When Mr. Dorsey ran into the frame, he was shot by a stumbling-back Simpkins, in what was described as a “split-second decision”, dying wedged between two parked cars. “Rod Simpkins is one of the most revered, professional, well-liked officers that we have,” said Jeffrey Wells, President of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police Union. Of course, as is often the case, the police department acts as a sort of brotherhood, more fraternal for some than others, but a brotherhood nonetheless. When I think about how much this country funds its police, the militarization of police, and the massive investment, I believe this is what brings me to my lack of surprise when another headline like this is seen in the news, whether it be my local news when it happens in Newark, or the national news when it happens in a place like Memphis. Punitive measures in these sorts of situations run counterintuitive to the wish of governments to protect these investments, to make sure that these policemen still want to be police, and that they will not shy away from “doing their job” where they may be reprimanded for the mistakes. 

I’m past being hurt, and nearing ever so dangerously to numbness, to disgusted apathy, sad as that is to say. The wholly rhetorical question I leave you with is: Does it not trouble you, or at least alarm you, that the only murder committed as police attempt to respond to gunfire is one committed by this very police, in which the one man without a gun is the only victim?

Damian K. Haynes is a writer and filmmaker, born and raised in the city of Newark. His film ‘Insects and Us’ was an official selection of the Newark International Film Festival, and his debut novel Spokes was published in 2022. He also runs the newsletter Acts of Penance on Substack, where he shares more original work. He currently resides in Newark’s Seventh Avenue neighborhood.

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