Dozens of residents gathered in front of Jersey City City Hall to rally for police reform following the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
The rally was organized by the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, which held protests every Tuesday for 16 weeks last summer following Floyd’s murder.
“We stepped out on June 2nd after the murder of George Floyd to talk about reallocating funds from public safety to social services, mental health workers, recreation, and programming that would help our community, and we’ve gotten a lot accomplished, but we’ve gotten a lot of push back,” said Pamela Johnson, executive director of the JCACM.
“Unfortunately, as hard as we fought, the unions fought back harder,” she said, noting that while the council adopted a resolution stating that it supports the creation of the CCRB the fight is far from over.
Now the push is to have legislation by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight adopted at the state level, which would allow municipalities to create CCRB’s with subpoena and investigatory powers.
She called on those rallying to call their state representatives and advocate for its adoption.
She also highlighted some progress in the form of the new Use Of Force Dashboard launched by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office that will serve as a database of use-of-force incidents across the state.
This data includes the officer’s name; the age, race, and gender of the person against whom force was used; what type of injuries the person sustained; and what kind of force was used.
“Even though we are making changes, New Jersey is still lagging behind,” said Johnson to the crowd of just over two dozen,who were outnumbered by the robust police presence, which included uniformed officers, plain-clothed officers, and officers inside city hall with riot gear.
Steven Campos of Hudson Partnership CMO said the uphill battle continues as he and activists push for police reform.
“Post the George Floyd decision, a lot of us that were watching intently this week when we saw the decision had mixed feelings of ‘yes, justice,’ but we also had that mixed feeling of ‘we need more of this consistently, always and we don’t want to see any more tragedy,” Campos sai. “And then we were hit with an immediate tragedy that same day.”
That same day on April 20, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus OH.
Campos reiterated calls from this past summer to invest more inthe community.
“We want to remind the administration, remind our police officers, and our districts that our reform is based in that philosophy, our reform is based on a philosophy of growing community, and we need to see that language in policy, procedure, and funding,” Campos said.
He called for the adoption of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the federal government has yet to adopt since its introduction last June.
‘Blue wall’ culture
Activist and Ward F council candidate Frank ‘Educational’ Gilmore said police reform needed to normalize reporting unethical behavior within the police department, noting that currently there is a culture “where you’re not supposed to go against the blue wall.”
“For me, when I’m watching the verdict of the George Floyd trial I’m not saying I see justice, I’m saying I see accountability,” Gilmore said. “Justice for me would have been one of them officers pulling that officer off my brother that was lying on the ground getting ready to die.”
He said crime is not deterred by an increased police presence but rather by investing in communities and community resources.
“We need the police, but we need them to act accordingly,” Gilmore said. “We need them to treat people with respect. See a human. That’s all we are asking.”
Lilia Diaz, JCACM board member, said she often hears comments from people who believe Jersey City is not in need of police reform, like “that doesn’t happen here.”
“We’ve had police killings. We can’t forget Lavon King. We can’t forget individuals like that,” she said, adding that over 200 excessive force complaints have been filed with the Jersey City Police Department of which only two were sustained by Internal Affairs.
“We need accountability,” Diaz said. “We aren’t saying all cops are bad, but we know that there are bad cops … I know no job where you can have misconduct and not be written up or not be fired or not be let go.”
At-large Councilman Rolando Lavarro said everyone needs to redouble his or her efforts to dismantle systemic racism.
“Even though a jury delivered a proper verdict, and Derek Chauvin was held accountable on that day, it does not change the fact that there is much work to be done,” Lavarro said. “A history of racism in this country and our judicial system and yes -to my friends and brothers out here who are police officers – yes in our policing we’re not friends with that one verdict. This verdict requires us to carry the mantel of dismantling systemic racism in our country in our judicial system and in our policing.”
He too called for the state CCRB legislation to be adopted and for greater police transparency.
The rally ended with a march down Grove Street to the Newark Pedestrian Plaza with police blocking traffic.