N.J could lead nation in police reform. Here's how | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
Follow on Twitter
on July 22, 2016

By Ryan P. Haygood 

 

Police officers get their orders before fanning out over the Roseville Avenue neighborhood for Operation Neighborhood Focus, a Quality of Life violations crackdown, Tuesday evening in Newark. 07/19/2016

---

 

Like me, I am sure you are still catching your breath from the tragic killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota — and from the heartbreaking deaths of police officers in Dallas, and just this week in Baton Rouge.  

Castile's death marks the 123rd black person shot by law enforcement this year.

The killings of Castile, Sterling, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott, and so many others underscore the necessity of ensuring that police officers serve and protect all of us.

Here in Newark, the recent FRONTLINE documentary, "Policing the Police," on the Newark Police Department cements the reality that the issues of Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Chicago, North Charleston, New York City, Ferguson, Baltimore, and more, are our issues too.

As a recent Department of Justice report found, law enforcement abuses in Newark are every bit as troubling as those that took place in Ferguson and Baltimore. The DOJ ultimately determined that, incredibly, Newark's police officers had no legal basis for the 75 percent of their pedestrian stops.

These findings, and the recent killings over the past few weeks, present an important moment for us to fundamentally transform the relationship between law enforcement and the community here in New Jersey in a way that serves as a national model for police reform.

July 12 marked the 49th anniversary of Newark Rebellion, which was sparked by police abuse of John Weerd Smith, a black cabdriver.  

On that same day, a federal court approved former Attorney General Peter Harvey and a panel of experts he formed to serve as an independent monitor for the settlement reached by the Department of Justice and the city of Newark. The settlement is intended to bring wide-ranging reforms and changes to the Newark Police Department.  

In a very real sense, this consent decree followed at least 49 years of consistent calls by Newark residents for real police reform.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here," the same year as the 1967 Newark rebellion. In it, King posits that, given the challenges, we have only two options: to embrace chaos or community.

Consistent with King's vision for the beloved community, the New Jersey Institute for Social Institute launched New Jersey Communities Forward, a cutting-edge initiative that seeks to empower stronger, safer communities through facilitated community forums and trainings with law enforcement.

By drawing upon lessons learned from effective policing models in New Jersey and across the country, and creating a safe space for honest and difficult discussions between community stakeholders and law enforcement, this effort, which has reached more than 1,000 people in the last year, is encouraging a much-needed paradigm shift in the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. 

This initiative led former acting Attorney General John Hoffman to require every state trooper (currently numbering more than 1,000) to wear body-worn cameras this year. New Jersey is one of the first states to make this commitment to police reform. In addition, Hoffman issued directives to police agencies statewide addressing procedures and best practices for conducting use-of-force investigations.  

We are now working to ensure proper implementation of these directives, and access to footage captured by body cameras. We look forward to continuing this important work with Attorney General Christopher Porrino.

Law enforcement must respect and honor the humanity of the people they serve. They must seek first to build community, and then join with the communities they serve to be both peacemakers and peacekeepers. Building on this sense of community, law enforcement officers should not fear being targeted simply for doing their job.

And that's what this moment requires of us: that we each embrace  King's vision of social justice, commit to bending our neighborhoods toward the beloved community, and that we remember that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." 

Ryan P. Haygood is CEO and president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a leading social justice legal organization on behalf New Jersey's urban communities. He lives in Newark's South Ward, and formerly served as deputy director of litigation of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. Follow him on twitter @RyanPHaygood.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment