New Jersey

Cleaning Up the Streets of Newark

Newark, N.J. Is One of America's Roughest Cities -- but Perhaps Not for Long

Cory Booker is not your typical mayor.

He has chosen to live in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in what has historically been one of America's most dangerous cities: Newark, N.J.

"The risk I'm taking is very small," Booker told "Good Morning America." "The reality is, I am the mayor. I have security with me all the time. I want to make sure that every resident in our city, no matter what neighborhood they live in, is just as safe as a mayor riding around with security detail."

A few years ago, that was unthinkable. Newark, by all accounts, had been written off. The Riots of 1967 set the tone for crime and gang violence. Crack became the drug of choice and the school dropout rate hit an all-time high.

So, when Booker took office, he started small -- street corner by street corner.

"We have to say that we're not going to allow this to happen," Booker said. "Not in a nation this strong and a city this great should these kind of behaviors go on."

One need only to look today at American History High School, a new magnet school of about 500 students.

Robert Gregory, a product of Newark, is the school's principal.

"When I was growing up, they would steal from you," Gregory said. "They would take your jacket and come up to you and ask what size shoe you wore and take it from you. That was the reality of inner city life."

Even the students here, however, are plagued with great challenges. Forty percent of the student body are being raised by their grandparents. Their parents are often in jail or on drugs.

Hasan, a 15-year-old student, said he is driven just to be "everything [his] father wasn't."

Last summer, Newark experienced some of its darkest days when three college-bound students were gunned down in a Newark schoolyard. For Mayor Booker, it was a defining moment.

"I mean, I feel like I've never been hit so hard spiritually than that day when we had three kids murdered," Booker said.

Since the shooting, a new police chief moved hundreds of police officers from desk duty onto the streets. The city installed more than 100 suveillance cameras in Newark's worst crime-infested areas.

The result? Murders this year are down 41 percent from 2007. Shootings are down 20 percent and arrests are up 7 percent.

The numbers encourage Booker.

"Give us another five years and we're going to show you what's possible," he said. "The great thing about Newark is that I think the faith and the spirit of the city, which sustained it during the tough times, finally we're starting to see their fruits now."

"There's no way I'm going to settle for good when better is possible and there's no way I'm going to settle for better when we can be best."

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