Is crime out of control in Jersey City, and are rival gangs making the situation worse with so-called “revenge killings”?
In 2009, out of 28 murders in the city, at least 10 claimed male victims under the age of 25.
Last year, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said some of the shootings may have been gang related, possibly for revenge. Several of them occurred in the city’s housing projects.
Apparently, the problem is continuing.
Last weekend, three men under the age of 35 were shot in separate incidents – two of them in cases of what the prosecutor believes were premeditated murder. A suspect was arrested Thursday in one of the murders.
Jersey City Police Chief Thomas Comey said last week that homicides of the young men were “disconcerting.” However, he also said some of them were a product of larger “societal” issues and could not be completely kept under control by police.
“There is certainly a gang component in many of these cases.” – Edward DeFazio
Comey also said the increasing proliferation of handguns is a problem. He did say that various anti-gang crime initiatives were put into effect in 2009 but could not get into specifics because they are “security sensitive.”
Comey also defended the performance of his police force, saying in the past year, they were able to decrease the number of firearms used in both assaults and robberies.
Shot ‘execution style’
The first murder of last weekend occurred when armed gunmen entered a Wegman Parkway home around 3:15 a.m. Friday morning and allegedly shot Ronald Jordan, 21, as he was watching TV. Jordan lived elsewhere, however, in the Marion Gardens public housing complex on Dales Avenue. DeFazio said on Monday that he was staying with an acquaintance when he was shot.
DeFazio said multiple shots were fired by one of the gunmen and one shot was fired by the second gunman.
On Friday, First Assistant Prosecutor Guy Gregory said that 22-year-old Jersey City Dante Bland, of Stevens Avenue, was arrested afternoon in connection with Jordan’s murder. Gregory said a gun was recovered when Bland was arrested, but did not say if it was used in Jordan’s shooting.
Gregory also said a second shooter is still being sought in Jordan’s murder.
The second murder that day happened around 11:30 p.m., when Stevens Avenue resident Ezekiel Sims, 31, was shot once “execution style” in a stairwell in the in the Marion Gardens public housing complex, DeFazio said.
First Assistant Prosecutor Guy Gregory said on Wednesday that it is believed that Sims was visiting the complex, but it could not be confirmed.
The two victims knew each other, according to DeFazio.
When asked about the connection to last year’s killings, DeFazio said, “There is certainly a gang component in many of these cases. Still, there is no excuse for the wanton violence.”
DeFazio expressed support for the efforts of local law enforcement to prevent these gang-related shootings as well as frustration at their continuation.
“Jersey City police and the prosecutor’s office are working together and trying a number of initiatives to crack down on this continuing pattern of violence,” DeFazio said. “But when these homicides occur inside places and there’s a lack of cooperation that is so prevalent in these cases, it becomes a problem solving them.”
Anyone with information on the shootings can contact the Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Squad at (201) 915-1345.
A different story
In a third incident this past weekend, an undercover Jersey City police officer Sunday night shot 18-year-old Kwadir Felton on Dwight Street around 8:30 p.m. Police said Felton allegedly attempted to rob the officer, who was sitting in his unmarked police car.
Newspaper reports have said that Felton may be blind for life.
DeFazio said the case has been referred to the NJ Attorney General’s Office, whose Shooting Response Team is investigating it. The undercover officer was working with the New Jersey State Police at the time of the shooting, investigating and conducting surveillance regarding gang activity on Dwight Street, he said.
Investigators allege that Felton approached the driver’s side of the car with a 9 mm. handgun and pointed a gun at the officer. The officer fired one round through the window with his .45-caliber handgun, striking Felton in the head. He was taken to Jersey City Medical Center.
Felton was charged with aggravated assault, attempted robbery, unlawful possession of a handgun, and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. Superior Court Judge Fred J. Theemling Jr. set bail for Felton at $500,000 cash.
In addition, a newspaper report said that on Sunday night, a group of men coming to visit Felton at the hospital were arrested on weapons charges after police found a Glock semi-automatic gun in their car.
Attorney General spokesman Peter Aseltine said his office’s investigation is continuing with assistance from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JC murders are rising
The Jersey City Police Department lists 28 homicides in all of 2009. That would be an 8 percent jump from the 2008 total of 26 homicides as indicated in the State Police’s 2008 Uniform Crime Report.
However, research done by the Jersey City Reporter, checking both its articles and others on the web, came up with 29 homicides in 2009, which would be an 11 percent increase in homicides from the previous year. Chief Thomas Comey said he will have to look back at all the homicides to see whether there were 29.
The Jersey City trend contradicts the statewide trend. Attorney General Anne Milgram announced earlier this year that there has been a 10 percent decline in the number of murders reported in New Jersey in 2009 compared to 2008. As of Dec. 21, she said, there were 335 murders in 2009, compared to 369 in 2008.
Among the murders in Jersey City that made big headlines in 2009:
Jan. 30 – Nigel Gore from Bayonne, 21, was killed with multiple gunshot wounds in Jersey City after he was approached on the street on Rutgers Avenue in the city’s Greenville section by two masked gunmen. A teenaged suspect was later charged with the murder.
Feb. 10 – Justin McNeil, 21, was shot multiple times in the chest on Ocean Avenue in Jersey City while standing on the sidewalk. No arrests have been made in connection with McNeill’s murder.
April 21 – Pedro Roman Jr., 17, was shot in the chest and through the head in a dispute in Triangle Park, Jersey City. Pashawn Holmes of Clifton was arrested in connection with the crime. – RK