Activists at an anti-violence rally in Newark, New Jersey, ended up in a brawl Wednesday on the steps of City Hall with supporters of Mayor Ras Baraka.
The event, led by Salaam Ismial, co-chair of the New Jersey Study Commission on Violence, and Abdul Muhammad, described as “a longtime Newark anti-violence activist,” devolved into violence as supporters of Mayr Baraka heckled the group as they spoke to the press.
As the group spoke to reporters, however, a group of Baraka supporters including activist Donna Jackson and Tyrone “Street Counsel” Barnes began heckling and shouting from the base of the steps.
It soon evolved into an intense face-off between Jackson and Muhammad, which then erupted into a skirmish between members of the two camps. At one point, Barnes put his hands around Muhammad’s neck and pushed him to the ground.
Organizers and other participants said the skirmish lasted only a few minutes, and there were no serious injuries.
Protesters claimed they were not opposing Mayor Baraka, simply attempting to urge him to action. Ismial noted Mayor Baraka took part in such rallies before assuming office, telling the press afterwards, “The mayor was one of them. He’s part of that community. He understands it, he understands the frustration.”
For his part, Baraka was less cordial. Ismial does not live in Newark, but nearby Elizabeth, New Jersey. The mayor released a statement reading, in part, “While we appreciate their concern for the citizens of Newark, it would have been more appropriate for Mr. Salaam Ismial, the coordinator of this event, to bring to light the issue of violence in their town, by doing so in their town.”
As for the fight, Baraka singled out Muhammad, a former Newark city employee, for criticism, blaming him for the fight. “It was also disheartening to learn that a former Newark municipal employee, Mr. Abdul Muhammad, was the instigator in a confrontation with another well-known Newark community activist and was allegedly pivotal in the ensuing melee,” the Mayor’s statement said.
Police are investigating the fight as well as the rally, which appears to have been held without a permit.