1967 Newark riots

The 1967 Newark riots were a major civil disturbance that occurred in the city of Newark, New Jersey between July 12 and July 17, 1967. The five days of rioting, looting, and destruction left 26 dead and hundreds injured.

Social unrest

In the period leading up to the riots, police racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led local African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. In particular, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often suffered police brutality.

Unemployment and poverty were also very high with the traditional manufacturing base having been fully eroded and withdrawn from the Northeast US by 1967. Further fueling tensions was the final decision by the state of New Jersey to clear a vast tract of land in the central ward of its tenement buildings displacing thousands, to build the new University of Medicine and Dentistry facility. (In subsequent years the UMDNJ facility would become an important primary care facility for the remaining residents.)

According to a Rutgers University study on the riot, many African Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark despite the fact that Newark became one of the first majority black major cities in America alongside Washington, D.C. In sum, the city was entering a turbulent period of incipient change in political power. A former seven-term congressman representing New Jersey's 11th congressional district, Mayor Hugh Addonizio (who was also the last non-black mayor of Newark) took few steps to incorporate blacks in various civil leadership positions and to help blacks get better employment opportunities. Black leaders were increasingly upset that the Newark Police Department was dominated by white officers who would routinely stop and question black youths with or without provocation.

Despite being one of the first cities in the U.S. to hire black police officers, the department's demographics remained at odds with the city's population, leading to poor relations between blacks and the police department. Only 145 of the 1322 police officers were black (11%), mirroring national demographics-if not the city's. while the city remained over 50% black.

Sparking event

This unrest came to a head when two white Newark policemen, John DeSimone and Vito Pontrelli, arrested a black cabdriver, John Weerd Smith, for improperly passing them on 15th Avenue. Smith was taken to the 4th Police Precinct, which was across the street from Hayes Homes, a large public housing project. Residents of Hayes Homes saw an incapacitated Smith being dragged into the precinct, and a rumor was started that he had been killed while in police custody. (Smith had been moved to a local hospital.) The crowds in outrage began to destroy public and private property and confronted and attacked the police causing injuries. In turn there were a few men who were shot dead by police.

The second day saw a reduced intensity from the previous night and there was a chance for calm. Unfortunately the National Guard had already been called up and entered the city; early in the evening of July 15th a woman named Rebecca Brown was killed in a fusillade of bullets directed at the window of her second floor apartment. This event helped to set off the worst of the fighting. By the sixth day riots, looting, violence, and destruction â€" ultimately left a total of 26 people dead, 725 people injured, and close to 1,500 arrested. Property damage exceeded $10 million.

In an effort to contain the riots, every evening at 6 p.m. the Bridge Street and Jackson Street Bridges, both of which span the Passaic River between Newark and Harrison, were closed until the next morning.

The 1967 Plainfield riots occurred during the same period in Plainfield, New Jersey, a city about 18 miles southwest of Newark.

The long- and short-term causes of the riots are examined in the documentary film Revolution '67. The riots were depicted in the Philip Roth novel American Pastoral.


While the riots are often cited as a major factor in the decline of Newark and its neighboring communities, longer-term racial, economic, and political forces contributed towards generating inner city poverty. By the 1960s and 1970s, as industry fled the city, so did the white middle class, leaving behind a poor population. During this same time, the population of many suburban communities in northern New Jersey expanded rapidly.

As of 2000, the Newark Police Department is 37% black, 27% Hispanic and 36% white though the city remains 52% black, 34% Hispanic, and 14% white.

See also

  • Race riot
  • New Community Corporation


External links

  • Revolution '67 Film website
  • 1967 Newark Riots
  • Rutgers information site on riots
  • Student essay on riots (New Jersey Bar Association)
  • PBS "Revolution '67"
  • WNET A Walk Through Newark, history on riots
  • The Star-Ledger's resource center on the 1967 riots
  • The Star-Ledger's 4 part anniversary expose
  • No Cause For Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark by Ron Porambo

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