Democracy Now! - November 23, 2015

Belgium’s capital city of Brussels is on its highest alert as residents remain on lockdown. People are being told to stay away from their windows, and schools remain closed as police and soldiers carry out raids in the search for suspects in the Paris attacks ten days ago that killed 130 people. Overnight raids resulted in 16 arrests. No guns or explosives were found, and Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris attacks who drove to Brussels afterward, remains at large. Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel says Brussels will remain under the country’s highest level of security threat, meaning the threat of an attack is "serious and imminent." We speak with Belgian-born human rights activist Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, who has spent the last few months interviewing refugees coming to Europe mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. He also examines what he calls the "marginalized ghettos" in European cities where many migrants live, including the Brussels suburb called Molenbeek, where some of the Paris attackers lived. "Europe really should be focusing more on the marginalized Muslim communities at home and try to better meet their needs, make sure that young people are educated and have jobs available, because the reality is that the majority of these people who carried out the Paris attacks were French citizens — some of them resident in Molenbeek — who have been living in France all of their lives," Bouckaert says. He also notes Belgium has been a center for the illegal weapons trade for decades.

While 130 people died in the Paris attacks, an average of 100 Americans are killed in gun violence every day, prompting many to question whether "another Paris is taking place in America this very day." We speak with one of the mayors leading the charge for stricter federal gun laws. Ras Baraka is mayor of Newark, New Jersey, where one in four residents live in poverty, schools are under state control and the city has one of the highest murder rates in the country. "The shootings in these cities where I am the mayor and all over the country are growing higher and higher because of access to guns," Baraka said. "In New Jersey, fortunately, we have some stricter gun laws. But unfortunately, they bring guns across I-78 and I-95, guns come from the southern part of the country and into hands of 14- and 15-year-old kids who are using them to solve disputes and creating murder and mayhem in our community. We have to have universal kind of gun laws that affect every state and every city, not just a few."

The education system of Newark, New Jersey has faced years of crisis, with high dropout rates, low-performing schools and a state takeover dating back two decades. In 2010, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Democratic Mayor Cory Booker of Newark and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg joined forces to revamp Newark schools. But despite trumpeting their plan as a model for national school reform, millions of dollars initially flowed not to the schools but to outside consultants, most of them white and with no ties to Newark’s majority African-American community. "A lot of [the money] went to consultants," says Baraka. "Not much went toward teacher training, toward teachers and classrooms to give them better resources and opportunities for kids in the schools. I think now because there has been a lot of uproar and a lot of discussion and because we have a new person in charge of that when I became mayor, we began to talk about the last bit of money and how we get to spend that. Hopefully, use it for the benefits of the children."

When Ras Baraka was elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey in May 2014, he entered office as the well-known son of noted global activist and poet Amiri Baraka, with similar radical politics. In his inaugural address, Baraka said, "We need … a mayor that puts his city first. A mayor that never forgets how he got here. We need a mayor that’s radical." He calls for an "urban Marshall Plan" to invest in cities. "My family has been in Newark almost 100 years," Baraka said. "Nothing has been given to those folks — job training, job development, infrastructure redevelopment, roads, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, putting people to work, giving people jobs and decent education. All of that is necessary in a democracy and to move America forward."

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