|1967 Newark riots|
|Date||July 12-17, 1967|
|Location||Newark, New Jersey|
|Caused by||Beating of a black man by police|
|Methods||Rioting, arson, shooting, assault, rock throwing|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The 1967 Newark riots was one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the "Long Hot Summer of 1967". This riot occurred in the city of Newark, New Jersey between July 12 and July 17, 1967. Over the four days of rioting, looting, and property destruction, 26 people died and hundreds injured.
In the decades leading up to the riots, deindustrialization and suburbanization affected Newark greatly. White middle-class citizens left for other towns across North Jersey, in one of the largest examples of white flight in the country. By 1967, Newark was one of the United States' first majority black cities, but was still controlled by white politicians.
Racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led the city's African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. In particular, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often subjected to police brutality.
Unemployment and poverty were very high, with the traditional manufacturing base of the city having been fully eroded and withdrawn by 1967. Further fueling tensions was the decision by the state of New Jersey to clear tenement buildings from a vast tract of land in the Central Ward to build the new University of Medicine and Dentistry. Thousands of low-income African American residents were displaced at a time when housing in Newark was aging and subjected to high tax rates.
Many African Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark, despite massive changes in the city's demographic makeup. Mayor Hugh Addonizio, to date the last white mayor of the city, took few steps to adjust to the changes and provide African Americans with civil leadership positions and better employment opportunities.
Despite being one of the first cities in the country to hire black police officers, the department's demographics remained at odds with the city's population, leading to poor relations between blacks and the police department. Only 145 of the 1,322 police officers in the city were black (11%), mirroring national demographics, while the city grew to be over 50% black. Black leaders were increasingly upset that the Newark Police Department remained dominated by white officers, who would routinely stop and question black youths with or without provocation.
This unrest and social change came to a head when two white Newark police officers, John DeSimone and Vito Pontrelli, arrested a black cab driver, John William Smith on the evening of July 12. After signaling, Smith passed the double parked police car, after which he was pursued and pulled over by the officers. He was arrested, beaten by the officers and taken to the 4th Police Precinct, where he was charged with assaulting the officers and making insulting remarks.
Residents of Hayes Homes, a large public housing project, saw an incapacitated Smith being dragged into the precinct, and a rumor was started that he had been beaten to death while in police custody. Smith in fact had been released in the custody of his lawyer. The rumor, however, spread quickly, and a large crowd soon formed outside the precinct. At this point, accounts vary, with some saying that the crowd threw rocks through the precinct windows and police then rushed outside wearing hard hats and carrying clubs. Others say that police rushed out of their station first to confront the crowd, and then they began to throw bricks, bottles, and rocks.
At least five police officers were struck by stones, according to one officer. Some residents went to City Hall and shouted angry protests. After midnight false alarms caused fire engines to race around a six-block area along Belmont Avenue. Looters smashed windows of a few stores and threw merchandise onto sidewalks. According to police, liquor stores were the main target of looters. As the rumors were dispelled, things calmed.
On July 13, a march was organized to protest Smith's beatings and police brutality in the city. During the rally, an unknown woman smashed the windows of the 4th Precinct with a metal bar. Looting began soon after and spread quickly along Springfield Avenue, the neighborhood's business district. Molotov cocktails were thrown into shops and entire buildings soon caught fire
Next a car was burned and a policeman was injured by a flying brick after which shotguns were issued to some police. By midnight looting was occurring in a wider area, all police were placed on emergency duty and fires were being started. At 1:00 A.M. police were told to "fire if necessary." Within two hours National Guard and state troopers were called out.
Early in the evening of July 15 a woman named Rebecca Brown was killed in a fusillade of bullets directed at the window of her second floor apartment. This event helped to set off the worst of the fighting. By the sixth day, riots, looting, violence, and destruction ultimately left a total of 16 civilians, 8 suspects, a police officer, and a firefighter dead; 353 civilians, 214 suspects, 67 police officers, 55 firefighters, and 38 military personnel injured; and 689 civilians and 811 suspects arrested. Property damage exceeded $10 million.
In an effort to contain the riots, every evening at 6 p.m. the Bridge Street and Jackson Street Bridges, both of which span the Passaic River between Newark and Harrison, were closed until the next morning.
While the riots are often cited as a major factor in the decline of Newark and its neighboring communities, longer-term racial, economic, and political forces contributed towards generating inner city poverty. By the 1960s and 1970s, as industry fled the city, so did the white middle class, leaving behind a poor population. During this same time, the population of many suburban communities in northern New Jersey expanded rapidly.
The riots caused about $10 million in damages ($72 million today) and destroyed Newark's reputation.
As of 2000, when Newark was 52% black, 34% Latino, and 14% white, the Newark Police Department was 37% black, 27% Hispanic and 36% white. As of 2016, the force was still 35% black, while the Latino portion had increased to 41%.
Revolution '67 is an acclaimed, award-winning, feature-length documentary about the riots by Emmy-nominated, Newark-based filmmakers Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno. It premiered on PBS in 2007 as part of its series POV and examines the causes and outcome of the Newark 1967 riots.