Of Trenton’s 31 murders in 2005, police believe 22 were gang-related, often a result of rival sets of drug-dealing street gangs battling for turf. In addition, a count by the Trenton Times indicates that 23 of the killings were gunshot slayings committed in public. The surge in Trenton’s murder rate mirrors a spike in homicides in cities elsewhere, particularly in New Jersey. “Trenton is a microcosm of what is happening in other urban centers in New Jersey and some other cities across the country,” said Michael Wagers of the Rutgers University Police Institute in Newark. “It appears that these homicides and shootings in Trenton and elsewhere involve gang members settling disputes with guns. Petty disputes turn into revenge situations.” Boston, Charlotte, N.C., and Toronto are just some of the cities experiencing the same gang-fueled violence, he said.
Gangs have taken over what used to be a more loosely organized street corner drug trade, police say. As the groups take root, more young people are attracted to the gangs or feel compelled to join to avoid being targeted themselves. Many law enforcement experts and residents view the gangs as an outgrowth of broader community problems. The violence is exacerbated, everyone agrees, because guns are so easily available on the streets. Mayor Douglas Palmer said a special gun court is needed. “There’s only so much the police can do,” Palmer said. “It should be, `You use a gun, you go to jail.’ ”