In the last five years, eight of 11 Union City homicide victims were cut down by the sharp blade of the machete. In the last four years, an additional 129 people were victim to acts of machete violence within city limits. Local officials say the machete is the weapon of choice for at least two criminal street gangs in the city.
In hopes of putting a dent in the city’s assault numbers, the city of Union City Board of Commissioners introduced an ordinance earlier this month that prohibits the sale of machetes within city limits.
“Anything a machete can do, there are more appropriate garden tools to use [in Union City],” Police Chief Charles Everett.
The ordinance follows closely on the heels of a Dec. 10 letter from Mayor Brian Stack to Union City shop owners, urging them to discontinue the sale of machetes in their stores in light of its use in numerous acts of violence in Union City.
The machete, he said in that letter, has no practical purpose in urban Union City, serving only to threaten and inspire fear within the community.
The city refers to the Code of Criminal Justice in the Jan. 4 ordinance, which defines weapons to include knives that can be used for lethal purposes or to inflict serious bodily injury. The possession of such a weapon without any explainable lawful purpose is a crime of the fourth degree, according to the code.
With the introduction of the ordinance, any store, facility, individual, or entity that attempts the sale of a machete will receive the general penalty for the violation of a city ordinance. The penalty is a ruling by a municipal judge of up to a $1,000 fine, up to 90 days in jail, up to 90 days of community service, or any combination of the punishments, according to city attorney Christine Vanek.
Union City Police Chief Charles Everett said he is hoping to have voluntarily compliance with the ordinance and hopes it doesn’t come down to penalizing store owners.
“Anything a machete can do, there are more appropriate garden tools to use [in Union City],” he said.
Weapon of choice
When it comes to the choice of weapon by Union City perpetrators, the numbers don’t lie: Edged weapons and, in particular, the machete, are the go-to weapon for felonious crime.
Union City, Everett noted in a Dec. 16 letter to Stack, is a different situation compared to other urban jurisdictions, in that the city sees very few incidences involving firearms.
“Although [the city] has not experienced [a similar] level of violence from firearms…we have had to contend with a disheartening number of serious injuries and deaths caused by assaults with edged weapons including machetes,” he said in the letter.
The preference of the edged weapon, Everett believes, comes down to its availability, or conversely, the lack of ability of firearms. The machete can be purchased literally down the street at a relatively low cost with no identification.
Also, he believes that cultural differences prompt would-be perpetrators, especially street gang members, to use edged weapons in an attack.
Some area residents come from agrarian cultures that use the machete, and know how to use the long, sharp blade to make huge hacks into heavy brush. That same tool, according to Everett, can literally cut off appendages, “which is why we’re so concerned.”
According to the ordinance, the city has recognized the use of machetes by at least one criminal street gang. Everett confirmed that for at least two gangs, it is the weapon of choice, and noted that there have been incidents of machete usage with another gang.
City spokesman Mark Albiez confirmed that gang violence has involved the use of machetes, and said the city has been aggressively prosecuting perpetrators.
Everett made specific reference to a Union City attack Oct. 31, in which a 17-year-old man nearly had his arm hacked off by a machete-wielding attacker in a gang-related incident.
Seven men and one minor were charged in the alleged attack. In the incident, a group was turned away twice from a party, so they allegedly retaliated with bats and machetes, inflicting serious harm upon a young man and superficial cuts to his older brother’s hand, shoulder, and face, according to published reports.
“[The machete] inflicts horrendous wounds, opening large gashes in human flesh and severing bone,” the ordinance states.
The use of machetes by gang members extends beyond Hudson County and has gained notoriety statewide, notably with a 2007 gang-related Newark schoolyard killing that claimed the life of three college students, and countrywide due to the sensational nature of associated incidents.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at email@example.com.