On Tuesday, a leader of a Newark, New Jersey Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapter incited a riot at city hall after he charged the dais at a council meeting, allegedly hit a woman and a child, and had to be restrained with pepper spray before he was arrested.
After Newark Mayor Cory Booker executed a power play by casting the deciding vote to appoint Shanique Davis Speight to a vacant city council post, SEIU Local 617 President Rahaman Muhammad stormed to the front of the city hall and lunged at Speight. Melees ensued.
One faction wanted to appoint for Mayor Sharpe James’ son, John Sharpe James, who is a vocal opponent of Booker’s. Another faction allied with Booker preferred Shanique Davis Speight. According to NJ.com, Booker made an “unprecedented personal appearance to cast the deciding vote.”
"In the absence of a quorum, I have an obligation to sit in," Booker said before casting the vote.
Booker’s chief-of-staff, Modia Butler wanted to “scuttle the appointment” of a Booker enemy and orchestrated the last-minute appearance by Booker to cast the vote for Speight.
Then, chaos broke out. And what ensued represented tribal city politics at its absolute worst.
After the vote, residents who opposed Speight’s appointment and Booker’s power play started chanting “Cory’s gotta go!” while Muhammed, who is a male, led a mob and “stormed the dais and appeared to lunge toward Speight,” a woman, and her “grade-school-age son.” Officers had to douse Muhammed and other residents with pepper spray to restrain them from doing more damage.
Booker’s opponents criticized him for staying in a back room with his staff to avoid the mob scene.
Police Director Samuel DeMaio said the officer had to make a judgment call to use the pepper spray.
"From what I see right now at face value, in the situation that they had there with the crowd surging toward the council desk … the officer made a decision," he said.
Muhammad was taken into custody and charged with assault and inciting a riot. He was released on Wednesday. After being released from jail, Muhammad said he was reaching in “to grab the bible to stop her from being sworn in” and that he “would never hit a woman.”
“I was trying to stop a vote that I knew was an illegal vote,” Muhammed said.
However, video footage showed Speight being knocked down, and the chaos Muhammed’s actions caused put those around him in danger.
Ultimately, City Clerk Robert Marasco on Tuesday swore Speight in after he ushered her out of the council chamber.