Monday, May 24, 2010


Newark schoolyard slayings lone survivor graduates from college

DOVER, Del. — Natasha Aeriel graduated from college Saturday.

That is a small miracle made possible by the bigger miracle that she pretty much walks and talks and thinks and writes much like she did before she was shot.

"I am blessed and highly favored and very appreciative," she said after the ceremony, as she held a bouquet of a dozen pink roses and a Fabulous Girl gift bag.

She is the lone survivor of the triple shootings at Mount Vernon School three summers ago. Her brother, Terrance Aeriel, was killed. So were her best friends, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey.
On the same day the first conviction was returned for the murders, Mark DiIonno reported this story. Mount Vernon school is near the South Orange border & within walking distance of Seton Hall University. The neighborhood, Ivy Hill, is adjacent to a section called Vailsburg, both are separated from the rest of Newark by the Garden State Parkway. They're neighborhoods of mixed two-family houses & apartment building, some single family, mostly working class & working poor African-American, with Hispanics mixed in.

There's a common misconception that everyone who lives in Newark wants, or ought to want, to move out of Newark. But many people, like anyone, want to live where they are most culturally comfortable. Some people in the poorer sections of Newark aspire to moving up to Ivy Hill. It has its crime & gang activity. But Ivy Hill is an area where four street-smart young people believed they could safely hang out in a schoolyard on a summer evening. Every young person in Newark is street smart - if the first rule of street -smart is knowing what streets & places to avoid. The Mount Vernon schoolyard wasn't one of those places.

The murders were shocking not only for how they were carried out execution-style, on innocent victims, but also for where they occurred. There are shootings around Ivy Hill, mostly on the fringes, mostly related to drugs or drinking or domestic arguments as reported in the Star-Ledger. The average resident probably felt pretty safe most of the time, like they could go out & walk a dog after supper. That sense of safety was undermined.

For years I resided in two small cities - Linden & Rahway, & then here in a distinct section of a large city, all within walking distance of a retail district & a train station. It's made me a law & order person. Cities, no matter how much intractable poverty & gang activity they have, need some reliably safe neighborhoods - safe havens. Because upward mobility for many people initially means moving across town into a safer neighborhood, a better apartment. Maybe even, as in my area, buying a house.

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