Camden and Corruption: Types of Reaction

By:Candacea Bey

Most major cities in America have had different types of corruption to disturb their cities function. When corruption in Camden, New Jersey happens it seems to stay around or not get enough coverage from national media. This lack of concern about corruption in Camden most likely causes the residents of Camden to feel a lack of concern from the rest of New Jersey. Even with most of South Jersey aware of the corruption, the politicians do not get confronted about the plans to make progress in Camden. Corruption can impact the way citizens in Camden get to voice their opinions, and how politicians react to Camden and its residents. The rise of corruption and lack of change in Camden politics makes the citizens of Camden feel hopeless and angry, which can result in protest, riots or peaceful plans to change the environment in Camden.

There are two types of corruption that exist, cooption and acquiescence. Corruption is “ an impairment, virtue or moral principal”(Merriam-Webster) and political corruption is “the abuse of power by public official for private gain.”(plato.stanford.edu) Acquiescence is “agreement or consent by silence or without objection” (dictionary reference). Cooption in a formal definition is “ to assimilate, take or win over into a larger or established group” (dictionary reference) A non-formal definition is to get your enemy or competition to work for you on your pay roll. In Camden and Camden County much of the corruption focuses on cooption. Politicians use cooption to get their way on every issue and manipulate the competition into thinking that they are compromising for the greater good. With politicians using cooption in and around Camden it creates a one party system that controls everything with the other party not getting their way. Residents of Camden who may not know about the cooption, are given information that there are two political parties running for office; but what they do not know is that one party wins most of the time, and that party is using cooption to control other politicians and the climate of Camden.

Camden Mayor Milton Milan who was Mayor between 1997 and 2000 was one of the most corrupt mayors in Camden’s history. In late 2000, he was arrested and convicted of nineteen charges of corruption that included taking bribes, laundering drug money and collecting then selling insurance for three times its value. The maximum for all the counts against Milton Milan were up to 119 years in prison, but he was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison on June 15th 2001 on 14 counts of corruption. Milan before becoming mayor may have already been corrupt “ The indictment charges that Mr. Milan began accepting bribes from an unnamed associate of Mr. Natale as early as March 1996.”(Peterson march 30, 2000) which means before he took office in 1997 he was already in a cycle of corruption. Milan has also been the third Camden mayor in 20 years to be convicted of a crime(s).

New Jersey State senator Wayne Bryant was convicted on counts of corruption in 2008 and sentenced to four years in prison; in 2012 he had charges against him in another corruption case that dealt with development bribery in Camden. Bryant who was a powerful politician in Camden county “ took bribes disguised as legal fees to do the bidding of a North Carolina developer that in 2004 had projects planned in the Cramer Hill section of Camden, on petty’s Island in Pennsauken and in the Meadowlands.”(Anastasia, Inquirer) That level of corruption covers a significantly wider area than most politicians who are corrupt deal with. . The problem with politicians spreading out further than one area is that once the politicians think they can corrupt more than one area, they view themselves untouchable and they are unconcerned about the way their actions may affect the lives of their constituents. Most of the places where Wayne Bryant engaged in bribery were places that are economically stressed like Camden. Politicians can sometimes get away with bribery in those areas because they assume people of low-economic status have no say in the political process.

In 2011 the Camden police chief Scott Thomson requested a probe into a councilman’s gun permit that he had approved. Thomson felt that he had been coerced into approving the councilman’s gun permit and the Camden county prosecutor investigated the situation for Chief Thomson. July 2011 Chief Thomson approved a handgun purchase and a firearms-purchaser identification card for Councilman Curtis Jenkins. In 1982 Jenkins had pleaded guilty to charges on welfare fraud, which made him ineligible to purchase or have a gun. “ According to sources, the state police had launched a probe into how Jenkins got the permits after a Camden officer told them Thomson was made aware of the Councilman’s record when he approved the permits on July 8th.”(Simon, Inquirer) That fact in the statement from another officer proves that Chief Thomson was not coerced into approving the permits, he may have been in a deal with Councilman Curtis Jenkins. There have been many other corruption cases dealing with Camden cops, Mayors and even councilmen; but the issues that remain after people are caught by corruption are: when will the corruption stop, and when will the people of Camden rise up and fight for their city.

One of the most famous and elaborate “protest” in Camden was the Camden 28 where 28 people broke into the U.S Post Office building in Camden on August 22,1971. The break-in was planned and its purpose was to take draft cards/records for the Vietnam War and destroy them. When the 28 arrived at their location they had 100 FBI Agents ready for them, they were arrested and had a trial in 1973. Mayor Clement St Martin “ …described in detail how the draft system discriminated systematically against the poor, the black and the uneducated, and how it regularly gave medical exemptions to the sons of the wealthy.”(Zinn, Progressive) One of the jurors for the trail questioned “ If, when a citizen violates the law, he is punished by the government, who does the punishing when the government violates the law.” That quote might be the way many other Camden residents feel about what happens in their city, but they never get to show their disapproval for unknown reasons. If citizens of Camden voiced their opinion in big ways like the Camden 28 but without destroying anything, then I think that more politicians would realize Camden citizens care about their city and want to see change.

Before 2000 Camden, New Jersey had been bankrupt for more than a decade and New Jersey legislators had been considering taking the city over by force. They wanted to appoint a non democratically elected Mayor and government in Camden. Many Camden residents did not agree with the plan for their city. On July 20th 2000 a group of forty-five Camden leaders protested the take over. Zawdie Abdul-Malik a member of Camden’s Board of Education stated why the group of forty-five planned a “Democracy for Camden” rally “ This march is intended to let the country know that there’s just a high level of dissatisfaction with the way the state is proceeding on this takeover.” (Peterson, NY times) Camden citizens were not the only ones against the takeover; Democrat and Republican legislators were uneasy about taking over Camden for multiple reasons. They were opposed to a complete take over of a Democratic city and taking away the right to vote from a city inhabited by minorities are some reason’s why legislators objected. Even though many people objected, eventually Camden was taken over by the New Jersey government for many years, but that take-over did not produce prosperity in the city. The residents that protested had the goal to save their city from a take-over but just had their voices silenced. Since then there have not been many other protest from residents, even though the city is not getting any better. The defeat the residents received might have given them a sense that they were hopeless and could not change their city the way they want. There were only about forty-five Camden residents who protested the take over of Camden; there are thousands of residents in Camden, so why don’t more residents protest? I think that if more residents protested together then the citizens would see a change in the way politicians react to their needs.

In a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, Wayne Williams a long time Camden resident since the 1960’s wrote about his experience and hope for Camden. He believes that the revitalization of Camden will take an effort from all officials in the Federal Government, New Jersey and Camden. His belief does make sense yet the reason to have local and State officials is so that the Federal Government does not have to do the municipal work. If a local and State government cannot perform their duties than who can? Williams does say that Camden is starting to change; there is Wiggins Park on the Waterfront and a recreation park in a former landfill. He also realizes that economic development takes time. Williams is one of the Camden residents who has hope and think that Camden can and is coming back. Richard Malloy is another resident that has positive views and thinks that Camden’s youth is the answer to the problem. He sites young people who have done great things. One of these young people is Nancy Rubert who went to Rutgers and to Law school and planned to come back to Camden to turn the city around. Yet many of the youth in Camden who have a chance to leave Camden, leave and never come back. So do achieving Camden youth, leave Camden and never come back because they do not want to come back, or do Political Machines prevent Camden citizens and youth from making their own plans for Camden?

In 2005 three boys went missing in Camden and the Police Chief at that time Robert Allenbach created an independent panel made up of citizens to investigate the case. That circumstance gave the citizens of Camden a sense that they were being heard. The panel came to the conclusion that the mayor, Police chief and County Prosecutor should be held accountable. If there were more independent panels from Camden citizens about crimes there might be a drop in crime and corruption because politicians would know they were being watched every move they make. Camden at that time was still under the “ Camden Rehabilitation Economic Act”, basically a New Jersey take-over. The officials were supposed to be better than the corrupt elected officials from before, but for Camden residents saw no change. The independent Panel also made recommendations for the case. If there were more panels from residents, then their recommendations could help revive the city, but someone has to listen to the citizens.

The way corruption seems to swirl around Camden it would seem that residents of Camden would always feel like they have no voice. Many residents truly do not have a voice in Camden’s political future. Yet once in a while a group or person does something to shine the spotlight on Camden. A negative spotlight does not help Camden, but the more people who hear about Camden’s decline the better chance Camden has to receive outside help. Neighboring towns will also notice how Camden’s decline, due to corrupt politicians, will eventually affect them and how they spread like roaches, so they will also want to help Camden. Camden will be rehabilitated, once people see that politicians do not care about the people they are suppose to work for. Citizens of Camden will eventually come together, to change their environment and to stem the feeling of hopelessness and anger about the circumstances in their city.

Works Cited
“Acquiescence.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

Anastasia, George. “Bryant Found Not Guilty in Camden Development Bribery Case.” Inquirer. Philly.com, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

“Cooption.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d . Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

“Corruption.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.
“Corruption.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Stanford University, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
Peterson, Iver. “In Camden, Another Mayor Is Indicted on Corruption Charges.” New York Times (2000): n. pag. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

Simon, Darran. “Camden’s Police Chief Seeks Probe of Councilman’s Gun Permit.” Inquirer. Philly.com, 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

Zinn, Howard. “A BREAK-IN FOR PEACE.” Progressive 66.7 (2002): 3+. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

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