By Don Guardian
Earlier this month, I gathered on the Boardwalk with dozens of our city’s South Asian merchants to mourn the loss of Mehmood Ansari. Mehmood, the owner of City Souvenirs, died after being targeted by two teens who allegedly robbed his store at knifepoint.
It was heartbreaking to hear these small business owners beg for protection after concerns for their personal safety had been ignored for months by state officials.
Every shopkeeper had a story about being intimidated, harassed, or shoplifted. Many felt it was only a matter of time before the uptick in lawlessness led to a fatal tragedy.
Mehmood’s sons, who ran to resuscitate him after he collapsed outside his store, were devastated by the loss of their father. And the South Asian population, who eulogized Mehmood as a respected local leader, were shaken by an attack that ricocheted across their entire community.
Afterwards, Atlantic City officials announced that the police department would add fifteen more Class II officers. An encouraging development, but far from sufficient to address the root cause. Our South Asian residents shouldn’t have had to lose a pillar of their community to finally be heard.
It’s no secret how we should fix crime on the Boardwalk. Just the lack of willpower to see it happen.
As mayor, I prioritized public safety. We hired 40 more Class II officers to patrol the streets, installed 160 new cameras on the Boardwalk, and fought every unconstitutional power grab by the state to take over our police department. Our police deserve to know that their elected leaders will have their back and allow them to do their job when their livelihood is on the line.
And what happened during those years? Violent crime fell 20%, and tourists returned to an Atlantic City that was safe, clean, and open for business.
It’s not rocket science. Crimes happen as a result of two factors: motivation and opportunity. When police are respected and seen on the streets, the opportunity for crime vanishes.
But the state officials forced upon us by Trenton haven’t managed to learn this lesson yet. They either don’t know or don’t care how their poor judgment has left the door wide open and invited crime into Atlantic City.
They cut the police department by 60 officers. They slashed the number of Class II officers by over 50%. They’ll likely drain what little morale is left by passing over a well-qualified local officer in Jimmy Sarkos to appoint a chief from North Jersey.
With only the city’s residents to suffer, our state controllers are attempting to turn Atlantic City into Camden on the beach.
As the state runs roughshod over Atlantic City, where are our representatives to check the state’s power? While Senator Chris Brown has always fought Trenton to get us a fair deal, his counterparts in the Assembly have nothing to say.
No opposition to Trenton’s lockdowns that have crushed our small businesses. No resistance to school closures that have put at-risk youth on the streets without structure or supervision. No comment on the Boardwalk’s major public safety concerns caused by the neglect of state officials.
Never a single independent thought on how the state takeover has run our city into the ground.
But when our assemblymen do speak, they cast votes to deteriorate the trust between police and the communities they serve. Just recently, they voted to ban law enforcement from monitoring polling places, implying police—rather than criminals—are the greater threat to public safety.
It’s hard to imagine how two middle schoolers could commit such heinous acts. But when the Governor shut down schools, places of worship, and faith-based organizations, some kids had nowhere to turn to learn character, morality, and good citizenship.
Mehmood, an immigrant to this country, was deprived of the security our nation once promised him. We cannot afford to let the neglect of state officials or the silence of our representatives deprive another hardworking family of their rights once again.
Don Guardian is the former mayor of Atlantic City and a candidate for New Jersey Assembly in the Second Legislative District.