Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford criticized community organizers Friday for being “irresponsible” in the wake of a police shooting that killed 18-year-old Derreck Mack earlier this week.
Langford referenced “attention-seeking, self-appointed wannabe ‘activists’ such as Marte ‘The Drama’ King” in a statement issued less than 24 hours after King and about two dozen city residents — including Mack’s mother Ruby Conde — rallied in front of Langford’s house, demanding an apology from him.
Langford declined to apologize but repeated prior statements that he is praying for the families of Mack and the involved officer, the city as a whole and “that healing might come and truth will ultimately reign supreme.”
“I truly regret and I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred,” Langford said.
King and local National Action Network chapter President Steven Young have organized demonstrations daily since Monday afternoon, when Mack was shot by police after running from them while being told to drop his weapon.
“For him to fuel this situation and continue to heighten tensions between the community and the Police Department, as well to inject my family into this, is irresponsible,” Langford said. “The spark that he ignited … could very well turn into a raging inferno.”
King said he’s not looking for a job or compensation for his work with the community, which includes Stop the Violence, Break the Violence events that began earlier this year — far before Monday.
Activities that he has helped organize this week were meant to give residents a nonviolent outlet during a time of frustration and outrage, he said.
A range between a dozen and 75 people came to this week’s demonstrations: at the Public Safety Building on Tuesday, City Hall Wednesday and Langford’s house Thursday night. King and others intended to go back to City Hall on Friday, but canceled their plans when Conde declined to participate because she opted to spend time with her older son Raymond Mack.
Held on $100,000 bail since Monday, the 19-year-old was released from jail Friday afternoon. He faces charges for cocaine possession and punching an officer in the face after Derreck Mack was shot.
On its face, the shooting incident promised to compound the already fractious relationship between police and some residents. Conflicting accounts of what happened that day have made matters even worse.
Derreck Mack, who was on probation for illegal weapons possession at the time, ran from police Monday as they told him to drop his weapon.
Witnesses provided mixed observations of what occurred just before the officer fired. Some say he was surrendering, while others — including the officer, whose name has not been released — say he was drawing a gun, according to interviews conducted by investigators from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Others contend Mack didn’t have a gun, including some whom King has filmed describing what they saw.
Surveillance footage from cameras mounted on apartment buildings in nearby Stanley Holmes Village could provide an objective record. But officials have refused to say what, if anything, was captured on film. And since Monday, it has been reported that the Atlantic City Housing Authority neglected to fix some cameras broken during Hurricane Sandy nearly two months ago and has not installed state-of-the art surveillance equipment planned to be operational eight months ago at Stanley Holmes and other authority sites.
“There’s a lot of frustration — I was under the belief it was done already, and many of the residents thought it was done already,” King said. “A video would be the difference between night and day (because) right now, it’s about the truth. And until we can deal with the truth, then there can be no healing.”
King blamed the mayor’s criticisms directed at him partly on his previous complaints about the Atlantic City Board of Education spending $20,000 on an appearance by R&B artist Ashanti, who is the goddaughter of Langford and his wife, Nynell, a school board member. King’s public statements led to media reports about the previously undisclosed expenditure.
King moved to Atlantic City after spending nearly 10 years in prison for armed robbery of an Egg Harbor Township gas station. Now a salesman for a solar company, he attributed his crime to his drug habit, which he said he developed as a reaction of sorts to growing up in Washington, D.C.’s toughest neighborhoods.
It also brought him to the resort because he spent the last part of his sentence at the John Brooks Recovery Center. He said he stayed - rather than return to his hometown or Camden, where he was living before prison - because he "fell in love with Atlantic City."
King does motivational speaking and has written books that draw on his past, which he also believes enhances his effectiveness as a community organizer.
“Many of the youth know where I’ve been. A lot of their family (members) served time with me,” King said. “So they know where my heart is, that I’m not out to get them, or to trick them. I can be a conduit because I can see both sides. “
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