At least 26 people died in the rebellion of 1967, which devastated the city for decades. But as the memory fades, is the city in danger of repeating the past?
On 12 July 1967, a man named John Smith steered his taxi around a double-parked police car on a Newark street. It was a hot Wednesday in the Central Ward – the principal black neighbourhood of New Jersey’s biggest city. The cops took offence at Smith’s manoeuvre. They stopped him, pulled him from his cab, and beat him. Then they took him to the Fourth Precinct, and beat him some more.
Smith was black; the cops were white. The Great Migration and white flight to the suburbs had flipped Newark’s demographics, turning it majority-black by the early 1960s. The power structure, however, was still controlled by the old machine. The police force was almost all white. Brutality was the norm. “People had been getting the crap beaten out of them for years,” says community activist Richard Cammarieri, who grew up in one of the Central Ward’s remaining white families. A change was due.