NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The issue of gang activity and violence in New Brunswick’s public schools took center stage at the Board of Education candidate’s forum last Thursday.
With the city's first ever school board elections taking place today, candidates had a chance to voice their opinions on how to deal with the gang problem should they be elected.
Gang violence in New Brunswick is an ongoing issue: A 2010 survey by the New Jersey State Police cited the presence of thirteen different gangs in the city, with approximately 392 gang members in total.
In 2010, a fourteen-year-old boy was fatally stabbed as the result of a gang-related dispute. The assailant was a member of the Brown Set, a subdivision of the La Mugre gang, operating in New Brunswick.
Of the gang problem, challenging candidate Sean Monahan said: "There has been far too much violence in the past few years, and I know that it has become an obstacle for New Brunswick students trying to focus on their studies."
The candidates spoke about many possible solutions to the problem.
"Parents, parents, parents," said incumbent candidate Benito Ortiz, "They have to be involved in their kids’ lives, and understand what they’re doing outside school."
Challenging candidate Stephanie Rivera mentioned the Rutgers Future Scholars program, which brings Rutgers students to New Brunswick schools to act as mentors.
"We do have some students who are involved in gangs as well as students who used to be in gangs, but were able to get out. This shows the power of the mentorship program," Rivera said.
“When we talk to students that have lost their friends to gangs, it's because they don’t feel like they have a family,” Rivera said, "They don’t feel like they have anywhere they belong, and that is why I believe these mentorship programs are critical to the New Brunswick community."
Incumbent candidate John Krenos said that "Gangs are the result of a family breakdown; they are alternative support structures that are ultimately destructive."
Krenos then went on to say that more recreational activities should be made available so that students can have other things to do outside of the school day.
Polls are open today from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Please visit NewBrunswickToday.com for up-to-date election results this evening.