FIRST AMENDMENT UNDER ATTACK

Local Talk Barred from Newark City Hall


NEWARK - Due to the actions of some people involved with the Baraka team, “Local Talk Weekly Newspaper” has become the news, rather than reporting it.


Our publication, “Local Talk Weekly Newspaper” has been banned from City Hall in Newark, New Jersey. Based on the account of the person delivering the paper there, it was allegedly by the order of Chief of Staff Amiri Baraka, Jr.


The first incident occurred on April 19, 2018. Walter Elliott, who is also a “Local Talk” journalist, sought to make delivery of the paper as usual, but was accosted by individuals at City Hall. 


This is Mr. Elliott’s account of the incident: “My delivery rounds at Newark City Hall started out like most Thursday afternoons. After going through the security checkpoint in the basement, I began placing papers at their usual places on the basement, third floor and second floor levels,” said Mr. Elliott.


“I got off one of the elevators on the second floor, dropped off five copies at the southwestern corner office and walked down the hall to the northwest corner, where the Mayor's office and a security guard desk is stationed. There were six people at that corner, including two plainclothes NPD officers, two people wearing white-on-blue "Team Baraka" hats and a woman in a blue-collar City of Newark uniform.”


“The first sign of anything unusual was a, ‘You can't put that there,’ from one of the plainclothes officers. I turned and raised my eyebrows. I was about to say, ‘I've been (personally) placing them there for seven years,’ when I decided to continue on my second-floor deliveries.


“Before I made the right-hand turn for Room 214, I noticed that the blue uniformed woman had an armful of ‘Local Talks’ the ones I had just recently placed.


“I was leaving Room 214 to take the elevator and leave City hall when I noticed a uniformed Newark Police Division officer at the top landing of the stairs next to the elevator. His badge number was 305; his name may have been ‘Monterosa,’ wearing a leather jacket and holding a walkie-talkie in one of his hands. He's a regular City Hall presence.


“Then he turned to me and said, ‘I just got the word. I've nothing personally against the paper but I've been told you are to no longer distribute them in City Hall. If you have any questions, have your boss call the Chief of Staff.’


“I normally go straight out of City Hall for our next delivery stop. This time, however, I took a longer walk along the basement hallway to see what happened to those papers I have just delivered there.


“All the ‘Local Talks,’ except for the 10 copies in the luncheonette room, have been removed. I did not go back to Room 214 nor the third floor.


“I parked my portable handcart, with the last of the three bundles I had brought to City Hall at the foot of the steps to the corner mailroom. I wanted to check on those 25 copies.


“I walked up the six steps, looked at the counter and found no copies there. I looked in vain for a bell or a buzzer nor no one was visible on the other side of the counter.


“I turned around to take the six steps down - and someone in that time had taken the last bundle (in my cart)!”


“Local Talk” Editor-in-Chief Dhiren Shah attempted to reach out on to the director of communications and the communications department to clear up the issue. However, he did not get a reply from them. Afterwards, Shah wrote city officials an email, informing them that this was a violation of First Amendment rights, and also to request an apology from A. Baraka’s if indeed he had ordered the papers to be banned.


On April 25, 2018 just after 2 p.m., A. Baraka finally replied. He denied having made the decree to effectively ban “Local Talk” from City Hall. He also said that if there was an issue, he could be called upon to clear up the matter and would personally ensure that the papers are delivered without people saying that it was not allowed.


On April 26, 2018, Mr. Elliott attempted to deliver the current edition of “Local Talk” at City Hall. However, he was stopped by a security guard, part of a contracted security detail, by the name of “Jarrett” who said that the Chief of Staff said the papers were not allowed inside City Hall.


After a series of phone calls, Frank Baraff, director of communications for the City of Newark, did speak on Mr. Elliott’s behalf, and delivery of the papers to City Hall was eventually completed.


Nonetheless, the comments made by this guard would suggest that A. Baraka was behind hindering delivery of “Local Talk” newspaper to City Hall, and is actively suppressing the rights of “Local Talk” as members of the press.


The actions taken by the Chief of Staff mimic the actions of the Trump Administration, dismissing media coverage as “Fake News,” etc. in an attempt to restrict the power of the press.


The situation was so egregious that NJ.com even ran an article about the ordeal, which can be found at this link: http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2018/04/local_paper_accuses_newark_of_censorship_after_400.html


As of this posting, “Local Talk” has not received any word from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, as his press secretary was contacted twice via email.


Shah said that he would like to resolve this amicably, but if the administration is not willing to do so, then the publication would continue to “let the people know what is happening.”