What helps a city fight crime? Media attention. Crime fighters don’t wish to be seen losing in the media.
Asbury Park’s gun crimes and murders get less television attention than other cities because it’s small and far from New York and Philadelphia. News 12 has to cover the state. The responsibility for keeping attention on unsolved murders in Asbury Park falls then on the Asbury Park Press.
Regarding Asbury Park killings, we’ve seen the Monmouth County prosecutor blame the city police, the county prosecutor make no progress himself and everyone blame the City Council. It was announced last week that state troopers will patrol the city, but car patrols lend themselves mostly to traffic tickets.
Left out of the conversation thus far is a very important crime fighter — U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. He is a well-schooled, honorable lawyer who has spent his career fighting crime, including a concentration on illegal narcotics, the antecedent problem that leads to gangs and murder.
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie built a legacy of putting corrupt politicians in jail. Former U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani prosecuted organized crime. Fishman can have a more honorable distinction than both of them — saving young lives and removing fear from a community.
Nationwide, the U.S. Attorney’s office has a nearly $2 billion budget, and New Jersey’s district is the fifth largest in America, with 145 lawyers and support staff. Fishman has resources. More importantly, he wields an effective crime-fighting law: The Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations statute (RICO).
RICO was designed to eliminate gangs. Gangs involved in organized crime once had a tradition called “omerta,” which is a code of silence. If someone was caught in a crime, he would not give up his co-conspirators. He would serve his short prison term on some small charge, but the higher-ups in the organization were protected. Asbury Park suffers from an omerta problem — no one will talk to police about who is doing the killing.
After it was passed in 1970, RICO wiped out omerta. Now, when a low-level person connected to an organization (Bloods or Latin Kings as local examples) is caught in a crime, prosecution under RICO elevates the prison time to 20 years for each qualifying count, and assets subject to forfeiture are seized pre-trial. All a prosecutor needs to do is convince a defendant he can be tied to two counts totaling 40 years in prison and his life is over then and there. Facing that prospect, the toughest of criminals have sung like canaries.
There is a prophylactic method of crime fighting that Fishman can use in Asbury Park: An information blitz that he is here and using RICO. In crime as in medicine, prevention is favorable to a cure.
Fishman should hold assemblies in the Asbury Park middle and high schools and alert city youth that he is here, using RICO, and his goal is to put criminals in jail, not for a period of years, but for the rest of their lives. Some will be afraid, but most relieved. He should tell them to spread the word to their older siblings and their friends.
Signs and billboards should be erected throughout the city that the area is under surveillance for RICO prosecutions. Mailings can be used. Fliers can be posted in West Side businesses and throughout public housing.
Tom Huth of the Monmouth Prosecutor’s Office stated last month that 80 percent of Asbury Park’s violence is caused by 20 people. The state keeps gang surveys and the local police know the members. Fishman can round them up for meetings. He can explain RICO to them and let them know that his goal is to ruin their lives forever for involvement in gang-related crimes, no matter how young they are. He should tell them they’d better come to him with what they know because if he has to find them first, it’ll be too late for them.
Then he should actually do the investigation. Asbury Park is concrete and sand, so no drugs are grown here with little, if any, manufactured here, and there are no gun stores. His investigation can lead to the bigger fish supplying the city.
It’s understood that U.S. Attorneys are expected to curb white-collar crimes, which reap millions of dollars in forfeited money and property. Arrests in bigger cities draw more media attention, but an honorable man like Fishman would trade it all to stop the killing of teenagers and young adults. Morality compels the priority.
The constant death of young men in Asbury Park is a problem that is real, it’s raw and Asbury Park awaits Fishman’s repair of it.