by John Thairu
The worst riots in the history of New Jersey were witnessed in Newark from July 12 to July 17, 1967. The violence was sparked by an incident where an African American cab driver John Smith had driven his cab around a police vehicle and double parked along the 15th Avenue leading to his arrest. A police record that was later released to the media stated that Smith had faced charges of tailgating as well as driving his cab in the wrong direction while on a one way street. Smith also faced accusations of physical assault and use of offensive language during his arrest.
Witnesses of Smith’s arrest strongly refuted the charges brought against him and claimed that he was arrested without reasonable cause. The incident was brought to the attention of various civil rights and pressure groups including the Congress of Racial Equality, United Freedom Party, Newark Community Union Project as well as numerous civil rights leaders. Smith was visited in his holding cell and when it was noticed that he had visible injuries the leaders demanded for him immediate hospitalization. Smith was later moved to a hospital in Newark.
On the evening of July 12, African American cab drivers around the Newark began to spread the news of Smith’s brush with the law. People began to gather in groups near the 4th Precinct and community leaders addressed the crowd in what was described as a peaceful protest. Most of the speakers called for peaceful engagement in order to solve the matter however, a few unidentified locals began to call for violence which incited the young men in the crowd to start rioting. The Police Station was attacked and various businesses around the area were looted and burned down. Cases of rioting were also witnessed several days after Smith’s arrest, leading to five deaths and the arrest of over 400 individuals. The National Guard had to be called in and they worked with State Troopers to help quell the violence that lasted a total of 6 days.