2nd season of 'Brick City' series views Newark's triumphs, travails through several prisms

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NEWARK, N.J. - Mayor Cory Booker's oratory was in full flight as he exhorted the police academy's graduating class earlier this year, in the kind of moment when no obstacle seems too tall.

"We decided to starve the budgets of other city departments to make this class possible," Booker assures the group.

"Are you ready to serve?" he thunders.

"Sir, yes sir!" the class shouts back.

Recent events have made the scene one of the more poignant in "Brick City," the award-winning documentary set in Newark that will premier its second season on January 30. Many of the newly minted officers were laid off last month as Booker struggled to fill a gaping budget hole.

Newark's fiscal crisis is an undercurrent running through the six-part series, which will be shown on Sundance Channel on consecutive Sundays through March 6. The first two episodes were obtained by The Associated Press.

Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, the series' executive producer, called it a chronicle of "the frontline dramas of a city struggling to move forward in this time of economic crisis."

As in the first season, which won a Peabody Award, the series toggles between Booker's unflagging optimism in the face of crushing financial pressures and the saga of young people struggling to shed the gang influences that have shattered the lives of so many around them.

Interspersed are scenes that reflect a rising tone of discontent among some city residents who rail at Booker and Police Director Garry McCarthy over crime and unemployment in New Jersey's largest city. In one, a crowd awaiting convicted former Mayor Sharpe James' return from federal prison gathers at the train station and chants, "Bye-bye Cory!"

The city's money woes crop up frequently. Booker asks then-city business administrator Michelle Thomas what can be done to avoid cuts to the police and fire departments and tells her and others, "If it stinks, kill it; if it jiggles, cut it."

Later, he sounds a more ominous tone: "Let's deliver the pain now and then we have the most hellish year of our life to live through."

Season 1 tracked the progress of inactive gang members Dashaun "Jiwe" Morris and Jayda "Ru" Jacques as they sought to raise their respective families. Season 2 finds both involved in counselling teenagers to avoid the lure of the streets.

His involvement with gangs from a young age sidetracked a promising football career, Morris tells a group of high school players leaving him with "nothing to show but tattoos with dead homeys, nightmares and obituaries."

Morris has plenty to worry about in Season 2: An attempted murder charge that will force him to choose between a plea deal that would send him to prison for six years or a trial that could result in a much longer sentence.

Organizations: Brick City, Sundance Channel, The Associated Press

Geographic location: Newark, NEWARK, N.J., New Jersey

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