By Ernesto Cullari
Hardly a night goes by where I don’t hear the rumbling and winding of accelerated engines of police cars and their blaring sirens soaring up Cookman Ave, from the oceanfront toward the downtown area. I often wonder what tragic ending waits at the other end, where the fury of lights and sirens finally come to a crescendo. I was recently enjoying a beer and pizza with my brother at Johnny Mac’s one Friday night, when police cars from every direction converged on the West Side. I paused a moment to acknowledge that such a police response likely meant that someone’s son, someone’s grandson, someone’s brother was laying in a pool of his own blood, as a street that he once played on became the street that he would die upon.
The Asbury Park Sun reports that it was 20-year-old Tyrell Howard that was fatally killed that night. My heart, like your heart, breaks for him and his family. Too many kids are killing other kids in Asbury Park and in cities like ours and neither our families nor our communities are equipped with the proper means to slow the tide of death.
Unless we are willing to change what we demand from parents, unless we alter who educates and how we educate our children, unless we change how we police our neighborhoods and until we change who it is that we accept as role models for our children, we might as well accept that a certain percentage of our boys will simply die too young. At a time when many are about to throw their hands up in the air in defeat, I say it is a time to confront the violence within our community head on.
Firstly, New Jersey News 12 reports that Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni has stated that the AP Police Department needs to increase its presence on Asbury Park’s West Side. I couldn’t agree more. From any vantage point on Cookman Ave., at any given moment one can see swarms of parking enforcement officers hovering over every parked car just waiting for a meter to expire.
Yet on the West Side, where I spend quite a bit of time writing, I have never seen a pair of foot patrol officers. The Asbury Park Police needs to immediately change its culture, from that of a Parking Enforcement town that stalks shoppers and patrons to that of a Law Enforcement town, with more of its resources in the neighborhoods and less on the beachfront and downtown areas.
Secondly, the churches and other religious groups that serve our community should be given more access to the public school system. Maybe they can provide lunches or breakfast to kids that would otherwise not eat well enough at home. In 2012 I was asked to present in the classroom in one of Asbury’s schools for career day, because I am a professional songwriter, with previous hits on Disney and Country radio. In each session, while explaining the songwriting process, I spoke about how God made each of them unique. I went on to teach how He as our Creator had endowed each of them with talents that set them apart, even from other talented people. I concluded with the fact that it is our disproportion in talent that allows each of us to offer the other goods and services and an opportunity for us all to profit from this natural disparity. You would have thought that my presentation was filled with violent expletives, by the way the teachers in the back of the classrooms responded.
If we are to stop kids from killing other kids, God has to be allowed back into our schools. For if they are aware that we are made in God’s image then their life and the lives of others have infinite value, but if they are left with the impression that they are made in Jay Z’s and Lil’ Wayne’s image then materialism, guns and killing are just featured accessories like kicks or an iPhone.