1967 Newark riots

The 1967 Newark riots was one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the "Long Hot Summer of 1967". This riot occurred in Newark, New Jersey, between July 12 and July 17, 1967. Over the four days of rioting, looting, and property destruction, 26 people died and hundreds were injured.

1967 Newark riots
DateJuly 12–17, 1967
Caused byBeating of a black man by police
MethodsRioting, arson, shooting, assault, rock throwing
Parties to the civil conflict
Rioters, residents of Newark, NJ


In the decades leading up to the riots, deindustrialization and suburbanization were major contributors to changes in Newark's demographics. White middle-class residents left for other towns across North Jersey, in one of the largest examples of white flight in the country. Due to the legislation of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, white veterans, who had just returned from fighting in World War II, began to emigrate from Newark to the suburbs where there was improved access to interstate highways, low-interest mortgages, and colleges. [1] The outflow suburban sprawl of white veterans from Newark was rapidly replaced with an influx of black people moving into the Central Ward; the black people, however, faced discrimination in jobs and housing,[1] ultimately making their lives more likely to fall into a cycle of poverty. By 1967, Newark was one of the United States' first majority-black cities, but was still controlled by white politicians.[2]

Racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led the city's African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. In particular, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often subjected to police brutality.[3]

Unemployment and poverty were very high, with the traditional manufacturing base of the city having been fully eroded and withdrawn by 1967. Further fueling tensions was the decision by the state of New Jersey to clear tenement buildings from a vast tract of land in the Central Ward to build the new University of Medicine and Dentistry. Thousands of low-income African American residents were displaced at a time when housing in Newark was aging and subjected to high tax rates.

Many African Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark, despite massive changes in the city's demographic makeup. Mayor Hugh Addonizio, to date the last white mayor of the city, took few steps to adjust to the changes and provide African Americans with civil leadership positions and better employment opportunities.

Despite being one of the first cities in the country to hire black police officers, the department's demographics remained at odds with the city's population, leading to poor relations between black people and the police department. Only 145 of the 1,322 police officers in the city were black (11%), mirroring national demographics,[4][5] while the city grew to be over 50% black. Black leaders were increasingly upset that the Newark Police Department remained dominated by white officers, who would routinely stop and question black youths with or without provocation.[6]

Inciting incident

The riots in Newark occurred 2 years after riots in Los Angeles[7] and came at a time when racial tensions were high. Historians believe that the shrinking of the economy, increased unemployment, and a city with a majority African American population which was being run by white politicians increased tensions during that era.[2]

This unrest and social change came to a head when two white Newark police officers, John DeSimone and Vito Pontrelli, arrested a black cab driver, John William Smith, on the evening of July 12.[8] After signaling, Smith passed the double parked police car, after which he was pursued and pulled over by the officers. He was arrested, beaten by the officers and taken to the 4th Police Precinct, where he was charged with assaulting the officers[9] and making insulting remarks.

Residents of Hayes Homes, a large public housing project, saw an incapacitated Smith being dragged into the precinct, and a rumor was started that he had been beaten to death while in police custody. The rumor spread quickly, and a large crowd soon formed outside the precinct. At this point, accounts vary, with some saying that the crowd threw rocks through the precinct windows and police then rushed outside wearing hard hats and carrying clubs.[2] Others say that police rushed out of their station first to confront the crowd, and then they began to throw bricks, bottles, and rocks.[10]

A person who had witnessed the arrest of Smith contacted members of the Congress of Racial Equality, the United Freedom Party, and the Newark Community Union Project for further investigation; they were subsequently granted access to Smith's 4th Precinct holding cell.[11] After seeing the injuries Smith sustained from the police, they demanded him to be moved to Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and were granted their request.[11]

At least five police officers were struck by stones, according to one officer. Some residents went to City Hall and shouted angry protests. After midnight false alarms caused fire engines to race around a six-block area along Belmont Avenue. Looters smashed windows of a few stores and threw merchandise onto sidewalks. According to police, liquor stores were the main target of looters.[12] As the rumors were dispelled, things calmed.


On July 12, a march was organized to protest about Smith's beatings and police brutality in the city. During the rally, an unknown woman smashed the windows of the 4th Precinct with a metal bar.[2] Looting began soon after and spread quickly along Springfield Avenue, the neighborhood's business district. Molotov cocktails were thrown into shops and entire buildings soon caught fire. A car was burned and shortly after a policeman was injured by a flying brick. In response, shotguns were issued to some police officers. By midnight, looting spread to other areas in proximity to the march and all police were placed on emergency duty. At 1:00 A.M. police were told to "fire if necessary." Within the next two hours, National Guard and state troopers were dispatched to deal with the crowds.[13]

Early in the evening of July 15, a woman named Rebecca Brown was killed in a fusillade of bullets directed at the window of her second-floor apartment. Rebecca Brown's death instigated even greater backlash and discord. By the sixth day, riots, looting, violence, and destruction left a total of 16 civilians, 8 suspects, a police officer, and a firefighter dead; 353 civilians, 214 suspects, 67 police officers, 55 firefighters, and 38 military personnel injured; and 689 civilians and 811 suspects arrested and property damage is expected to have exceeded $10 million.[14]

The riots elicited a strong response from law enforcement organizations. 7,917 members of police and National Guard were deployed leading to 1,465 arrests and 26 deaths.[2] 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.[15]

The 1967 Plainfield riots occurred during the same period in Plainfield, New Jersey, a city about 12 miles southwest of Newark during which a police officer was beaten to death. Plainfield native and author Isaiah Tremaine published Insurrection in 2017 as a mournful accounting of the Plainfield riots, and subsequent racial tensions at Plainfield High School, from his perspective as a black teenager living in the city with both white and black friends at the time.[16][17]

Aftermath and impact

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.[18] By the 1960s and 1970s, as industry fled the city, so did the white middle class, leaving behind a poor population.[18] During this same time, the population of many suburban communities in northern New Jersey expanded rapidly.[18]

The riots caused about $10 million in damages ($75 million today) and destroyed multiple plots, several of which are still covered in decay as of 2017.[19]

The ratio of Newark officers respective to their ethnicity has increased as of 2000, when Newark was 52% black, 34% Latino, and 14% white,[20] the Newark Police Department was 37% black, 27% Hispanic and 36% white.[21] As of 2016, the force was still 35% black, while the Latino portion had increased to 41%.[22]

The riots were depicted in the 1997 Philip Roth novel American Pastoral as well as its 2016 film adaptation, directed by and starring Ewan McGregor, alongside Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning.

The events are the setting of one section of the 2017 novel 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster.

Revolution '67 is a feature-length documentary about the riots by Emmy-nominated, Newark-based filmmakers Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno. It premiered on PBS in 2007 as part of its series POV and examines the causes and outcome of the Newark 1967 riots.[23][24]

The Sopranos episode "Down Neck" features a flashback in which Tony Soprano's mother, Olivia Soprano, is watching the riots live on television.

In March 2018, New Line Cinema and David Chase announced a prequel for The Sopranos set during the riots tentatively titled The Many Saints of Newark.[25]

See also


  1. Solomon, Nancy (July 14, 2007). "40 Years On, Newark Re-Examines Painful Riot Past". NPR.org. National Public Radio, Inc. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  2. "50 years ago Newark burned". NJ.com. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  3. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Bantam Books, New York, 1968, pg. 57, which states that 7 of the 9 members of the elected City Council and a majority of the Board of Education were white, although the president was black. The city had an estimated 52% black population at the time, although a majority were too young to vote. The report in the same section refers to the strains that had occurred in the long-standing Italian-African American political alliance over the issues of government positions, economic development and police brutality. Ibid.
  4. United States Census-1970
  5. Dr. Max Herman. dead link 6.22.2016 Ethnic Succession and Urban Unrest in Newark and Detroit During the Summer of 1967.
  6. Max A. Herman, ed. The Detroit and Newark "Riots" of 1967. Archived 2008-04-29 at the Wayback Machine Rutgers-Newark Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
  7. "A Walk Through Newark. History. The Riots | Thirteen/WNET". www.thirteen.org. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  8. "Crossroads Pt. 2: 5 days that changed a city". Archived from the original on May 31, 2009. Retrieved May 12, 2009.
  9. Racial Violence Erupts in Newark. New York Times. July 13, 1967. page 1
  10. Diary of a Riot: The Where, The How And Little of the Why. Lee Linder Newark, N.J. (Associated Press) Danville Register July 23, 1967 page 5
  11. Wang, Tabitha C. "Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". www.blackpast.org. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  12. Racial Violence Erupts in Newark. New York Times. July 13, 1967. page 1, 26
  13. Diary of a Riot: The Where, The How And Little of the Why. Lee Linder Newark, N.J. (Associated Press) Danville Register July 23, 1967 pages 1, 5
  14. "Rare Footage In The 1960s Shows New Jersey In A Completely Different Way". OnlyInYourState.
  15. "Newark NY race riots.... - RareNewspapers.com". www.rarenewspapers.com.
  16. https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/history/new-jersey/2017/07/14/recalling-1967-plainfield-riots/464715001/
  17. "INSURRECTION". Isaiah Tremaine Books.
  18. Mumford, Kevin (2007). Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America. NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-5717-0.
  19. "Five Days of Unrest That Shaped, and Haunted, Newark". Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  20. DP03: Selected Economic Characteristics from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for Newark city, Essex County, New Jersey, United States Census Bureau. Accessed January 15, 2013.
  21. Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics, 2000: Data for Individual State and Local Agencies with 100 or More Officers Archived 2006-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  22. Cobb, Jelani (June 28, 2016). "Policing the Police in Newark". Retrieved November 15, 2017 via www.NewYorker.com.
  23. POV. "Revolution '67 - POV - PBS". POV - American Documentary Inc. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
  24. POV. "Revolution '67 - POV - PBS". POV - American Documentary Inc. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
  25. Fleming Jr., Mike (March 8, 2018). "David Chase Revives 'The Sopranos' With New Line Prequel Movie 'The Many Saints Of Newark'". Deadline. Retrieved March 8, 2018.

Further reading

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