As someone who was born and raised in Trenton I find last week’s Signal editorial to be characteristic of outsiders to my city. The image of Trenton portrayed in the editorial is clearly one that is gleaned from the media and law enforcement officials, by and large, as opposed to personal experience or conversations with residents.
The author of the editorial views Trenton as a place that he would never want to live in and only visits during daylight hours, a place where gang violence occurs every day and the problems of the isolated and downtrodden local city are now threatening the pleasant, suburban way of life. I regard these images as stereotypes, the kinds of stereotypes that people from Trenton have had to encounter our whole lives when dealing with people from our city’s suburbs and elsewhere.
We can’t forget that it was only 11 short years ago that your educational institution, The College of New Jersey, adopted its name in part to disassociate itself from Trenton as it controversially dropped its then-moniker of “Trenton State College.”
The reality of Trenton today is not perfect. Yes, there is more crime than anyone should have to live in. Still, Trenton is no Baghdad and the presence of a lone gang member in an occupational capacity on campus shouldn’t send shock waves throughout the College.
It may surprise you to know that it is not at all uncommon for gang members to have 9-5 jobs and they don’t simply lurk the streets of cities and, now, suburbs looking for murder, assault and robbery victims. Wake up. Trenton residents are not a homogeneous group of people bent on home invasions and rape. Don’t let a very small percentage of the city’s residents (I doubt that more than 1 percent of Trenton residents – or 850 people – are active in gangs in the city) cloud your view of reality.
Additionally, you must realize that the conditions in Trenton that bring about gang memberships are often supported by people from the suburbs. It is people from the suburbs with, most often, less progressive politics than city residents that push for harsher, longer sentences that keep so many black men incarcerated and out of their home communities/households where they could be doing good.
It is suburban people who own businesses or serve as the managers of offices that shun those with criminal records on interview after interview, essentially forcing paroled citizens to go back into criminal activity to obtain the finances that they need to survive.
It is people from the suburbs who write editorials like last week’s demoralizing the residents of cities who begin to believe what people tell them about themselves. You’re unwanted. You’re violent. You’re society’s scum. The social psychology phenomenon of a self-fulfilling prophecy need not be hammered home here to inform you that if you constantly tell a people that they are something, good or bad, they will subconsciously reinforce that notion through their behavior.
I encourage you to visit Trenton for yourself and see what’s what. Go to South Broad St. and have a delicious chopped cheese steak at Fabulous. Go to the Boys and Girls Club on Centre St. and see the work that is going on there in service of Trenton’s youth. Go to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen in West Trenton or the Martin House on East State St. and talk with the staff and volunteers there who are providing for city residents in ways that the government, big business or suburbia cannot.
Yet and still, see the other side of Trenton. Visit the Donnelly Homes public housing development at the corner of Southard St. and Martin Luther King Blvd. in North Trenton, a Bloods hotspot. Witness the conditions that Trenton’s residents live in on Tyler St. in East Trenton, a fledgling Crip neighborhood. Come to Centre St. and see the dilapidated, cramped houses and non-existent job opportunities in Trenton’s Latino community that produces Latin Kings.
Come to the city you seem to so ardently fear and realize that experience is the greatest teacher of all.