Trenton residents seek solutions as killing spree continues with 5 homicides in 8 days

Hours after Mayor Tony Mack proclaimed his city was “in crisis” following a relentless series of killings, another young man was shot dead Thursday.

Robert Howard, 20, was killed in the area of North Clinton and Hart avenues, just down the street from city police headquarters. Howard, of Tyrell Place, became the city’s fifth homicide victim in eight days.

Later Thursday, city leaders and residents said Trenton’s problems go beyond the firing of more than 100 police officers in September. Those layoffs surely make a difference on the city’s streets, they said, but the money problems that forced those officers to turn in their badges have hit every area of the city’s structure, leaving little but the basics – and sometimes not even those.

“The city is going through a situation with a lack of employment, a lack of job training, so those are some of the things we have to begin to work on,” said West Ward Councilman Zachary Chester.

“The adults and the smart people in the city have to understand what these young people are facing. They’re facing a lot of adversity. I have been on the phone with a number of different people, and we are having conversations and trying to come together to work on these things. I grew up in the projects, went to school, left for college, wanted something better, came back home, and I see we have great potential here in this city, so we have to begin to have this conversation and do what it takes to make the school district better, to make our housing better, to level the playing field.”

A day earlier, Mack said he had written to the Christie administration to seek more resources for the city, especially for the police department. A spokesman for the governor did not return a call for comment on Mack’s letter.

“When someone gets shot, I grieve,” Mack said at a City Hall event Wednesday. “We are in crisis, and this is not the time to talk bad about someone. It is the time to come together.”

Chester, for one, said he was willing to come together with the mayor and others to find solutions for the city’s problems. Those problems burst into the spotlight in a series of killings this month. Howard, a rapper and the father of a 2-year-old, joined the following list:

  • On Dec. 15, Shawn Marinnie, 20, died after being gunned down near his home on Stuyvesant Avenue.
  • On Dec. 21, Troy Bradley and Pavevo Davis were shot dead on North Overbrook Avenue in a possible home invasion.
  • On Christmas Day, 32-year-old Festus Okwaisie of Willingboro was killed when he was shot in the head on Phillips Avenue.
  • On Monday, 21-year-old Jerel “Bigga Rell” Grimsley became the city’s 22nd homicide victim of 2011.

No arrests have been made.

In addition to the killings, recent shootings have left other city residents hospitalized. At 10:40 p.m. Wednesday, a man was shot in the leg on Bayard Street during a possible armed robbery. Also Wednesday night, a man on Coolidge Avenue was shot six times in the back but survived. That shooting scene was a few doors down from the spot where a man and a woman were shot Tuesday.

Trenton residents on Thursday gave an array of opinions on the city’s recent crime problem. Some say the city needs to rehire the police officers and concentrate law-enforcement on street patrols. Others say the solution isn’t with the police but with restoring recreational and learning programs. Some believe the city can do something to make Trenton a better place. Others say they believe things won’t ever improve.

At the corner of Oakland Street and Hoffman Avenue — a crime hotspot adjacent to the Roger Gardens apartment complex in the West Ward — residents told The Trentonian about how life is in their neighborhood.

“They need more police out here. It’s sad how they all killing each other out here,” said Dwayne Wright, 40, who was born and raised in Trenton. “These projects, they need to change. I’ve been living around here a long time and never seen it like this. You can barely walk the streets without getting robbed or mugged.”
“People be out here scared to walk the streets at night, then you have some of those who don’t care,” Wright added. “I try to avoid it, but it’s hard to avoid, because it’s all around here. … The cops laid off, they need to have them back walking the beat. If they start patrolling the streets more, you’d see a big change.”

A 33-year-old Roger Gardens resident who goes by the name Dre said the solution doesn’t lie with the police.

“We need better resources. All the basketball courts were taken away,” Dre said.

“Kinship and fellowship — that’s what this neighborhood lost,” said Dre, adding that a number of youngsters carry guns and that the problem is fueled by a lack of afterschool programs, a poor school system, poor parenting, adults being scared of children, and a lack of role models from good people leaving the neighborhood for greener pastures.

“We need a learning center, and we need to get with teachers who are passionate about teaching,” said Dre, adding that he tries to be a positive influence on youngsters by talking with them and feeding the needy people in his neighborhood. “I know I can survive and provide for myself,” Dre said, “but most of the people here don’t know how.”

Others who wouldn’t give their name also gave their perspectives. “That’s the way it is out here. It’s always happening like that,” said a man who said he lived in the city for 50 years. “That’s the young guys doing this stuff. … I don’t feel threatened. I’m used to this. That’s just life. … It’s never gonna get better.”

On the outskirts of Roger Gardens stood a woman who said she was from Halifax, N.C., but was in Trenton visiting family for the holidays. “I can’t wait to get back, it’s sad,” the woman said. “Eventually my brothers and sisters gonna get it right.”

In terms of the crime spree, “I don’t know what can be done about it,” said a man who lives outside Trenton but works here for a glass repair company. “For one, it’s not enough law-enforcement out here. I just work here. I just gotta watch out for myself. The only reason I work here is because I gotta eat.”

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