Overall, Newark is a much safer place than it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, says the Newark Star-Ledger. The number of violent crimes citywide plummeted from 10,912 in 1990 to 2,956 in 2005. Those improvements have been drowned out by gunfire. “The gun violence is what has changed in recent years, and it’s really frightening,” said Charon Motayne, a neighborhood activist. Despite the historic drop in most kinds of crime, Newark is suffering a surge in gun violence that has people recalling the bad old days. The city’s 106 murders last year year (an unofficial total) are the most since 1990, when there were 114.
What’s startling about the numbers is nearly nine out of every 10 of last year’s killings were committed with a gun, up from 48 percent in 1990. Shootings rose for the fourth straight year. Police seized a record number of guns last year — 863 as of Dec. 20, surpassing the previous high of 737 in 2003. Part of what is happening in Newark is a rising culture among young people in which guns are used to solve petty disputes, the spread of violent street gangs, a flourishing narcotics trade and a flood of ex-cons into the city. Experts say it all comes down to this: People are carrying guns much more casually than they used to. “This is very different from the peak of the crime epidemic in 1989,’90,” said George Kelling of the Police Institute at Rutgers-Newark, which found that more than 80 percent of homicide victims and suspects in 2005 had criminal records.