Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Judge

View of City Hall from US courthouse
      Throughout this research process, I've become well acquainted with many of the names that were involved in these riots. Among those names, one that has continually stood out was that of Joseph Rodriguez. In my interview with Gil Medina, Gil spoke about Rodriguez with the utmost respect, expressing that he was a person he trusted because he knew right from wrong, a person with a "strong moral compass."  When I spoke with Carl Poplar, he simply described Rodriguez as "the man". Among his many accolades, Rodriguez was the the first Hispanic Lawyer in Camden, he was inducted into the American college of trail lawyers, became the chairman of the board of higher education, chairman of the state crime commission, was the state public defender and advocate, and was appointed by the governor to the federal bench, where he's been for well over 20 years. Obviously, I had to see what all the fuss was about for myself. 
      Yesterday, I made my way to the US courthouse in Camden to interview the Federal Judge. As I stood at the top floor of the court building, I looked into the hallway with a view that overlooked the city and a felt proud of the fact that a son of Hispanic immigrants made it this far. When I walked into the chambers, I saw a stoic 82 year old man sitting with a youthful, energizing smile. There was Joe. Son of a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, Rodriguez was born and raised in Camden. From a young age, he had a strong yearning for helping people, a sentiment instilled in him by his father. In 1971, he was an attorney and the titular leader of the Hispanic community in Camden, so when he learned of what occurred to Horacio Jimenez he knew that something had to be done and became the main liaison of negotiations between the community and the mayor and his public safety director. The mayor at the time, Joseph Nardi, was one of Rodriguez's best friends. They had attended the same high school and had been friendly rivals their whole lives. Nardi was the godfather of one of Rodriguez's children and Rodriguez was the godfather of Nardi's children. When the riots were at their peak and a bullet was shot through the Mayors window on the 17th floor of city hall, Rodriguez looked at Nardi and said, "Joe, did you think when we were in high school that we would ever be in a situation like this?"  

    Rodriguez understood the dire situation and tried his best to quell the riots. He and other community leaders imposed a curfew on their own communities in an attempt to calm the chaos.He also understood the position of the mayor even though he didn't feel that he handled it in the best way. "He was trying to do his job and I was trying to do mine." Ultimately, Rodriguez communicated to me how important he feels it is to understand that many of these people were just asking to be heard, asking for an opportunity to do better in life. Along with his brother Mario, Rodriguez has committed his life to the advancement of this forgotten city. He exuded power in the form of commitment and spoke of Camden with hope and an eye fixed on the future. As long as Joe, and people like him are around, I'm convinced that this city still has a strong chance of invigoration.

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