Family of Najee Seabrooks Joins Renewed Call for Federal Intervention into Paterson Police Misconduct
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today was joined by the family (estate) of Najee Seabrooks and over 55 organizations in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) strongly urging the DOJ to investigate Paterson Police Department’s (PPD) longstanding pattern of illegal, abusive and racially disparate policing.
The letter follows a previous request for federal intervention sent to DOJ on March 13. Today’s follow-up letter emphasizes that a federal investigation remains critical despite New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin’s takeover of the PPD on March 27.
Institute Releases Brief on Racial Wealth Gap and Other Financial Disparities
NEWARK – Today, 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Newark to promote the Poor People’s Campaign, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice released The Two New Jerseys By the Numbers, a brief containing several points of data that demonstrate the vast financial disparities between New Jersey’s Black, Latina/o and white residents.
“Whether we are talking about wealth, homeownership, income or poverty, the disparities between Black and Latina/o New Jerseyans and their white neighbors remain alarmingly vast, some of the worst in the country,” said Laura Sullivan, Director of the Economic Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “These disparities are not an accident or a result of individual behavior. They are a result of persistent and daunting policy obstacles that have compounded over generations to hold back a large percentage of New Jersey’s residents of color. These obstacles must be met with equally forceful policy solutions, including those the Institute advocates for every day.”
Institute Responds to Body Camera Video of Paterson Police Killing of Najee Seabrooks
NEWARK – In response to body camera footage released this afternoon of the killing of Najee Seabrooks by Paterson police, the following can be attributed to Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice:
"What we saw today is heartbreaking video of a distressed Black man in the middle of a mental health crisis. This was a man who was desperately seeking help – help that could not be provided while a gun was pointed at his face.
"Soothing words fall fatefully short when someone is staring down the barrel of a deadly weapon.
Advocates to Hold Press Conference at 4 p.m. Today Calling for Justice for Najee Seabrooks
PATERSON –Today (Thursday), March 16 at 4 p.m., a coalition of social justice advocates (see below) will call for justice for the March 3 killing of Najee Seabrooks by officers of the Paterson Police Department.
Over 40 organizations have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and investigate, citing the widespread and pervasive pattern of unconstitutional, abusive and discriminatory police practices at PPD.
At today’s press conference, representatives from local and state organizations will address the need for accountability on the local, state and federal levels – as well as the need for robust non-law enforcement, non-violent response resources for incidents involving mental health and other crises.
Racial Justice Advocates Call for U.S. Department of Justice to Investigate Paterson Police Department
NEWARK – A coalition of civil rights advocates today sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice calling for a federal investigation into the Paterson Police Department’s pattern of illegal, abusive and racially disparate policing.
The letter follows the recent police killing of Najee Seabrooks while he was in his own home experiencing a mental health crisis. Mr. Seabrooks, trained in violence intervention, worked for the Paterson Healing Collective, an organization with that specialty. His co-workers were on the scene and attempted to provide non-violent assistance to him but were prevented from doing so by police.
The letter argues that PPD’s history of egregious misconduct demands federal intervention.
“Residents of Paterson have lived for years under a police department with a history of excessive force and other abuse, all felt disproportionately by Black and Brown residents in one of the most diverse cities in the country,” said the letter.
Over 50 Groups Rally to Urge Passage of New Jersey Voting Rights Act
NEWARK – With a rally at the statehouse and a letter delivered to New Jersey elected officials today, a coalition (the “NJVRA NOW Coalition”) of voting rights advocates called for New Jersey to protect the right to vote by passing a strong version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey (A4554/S2997).
With voter suppression rampant across the country and federal voting rights eroded, it is more important than ever for New Jersey to enshrine into law voter protections to strengthen our democracy.
Voters in New Jersey, especially Black and other voters of color, face many barriers when it comes to casting their ballots, including late openings and long lines on Election Day, struggles with physical access to polling locations for those with disabilities and lack of language accessibility for those with limited English proficiency.
Institute Celebrates Civil Rights Hero Fred Gray as He Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today celebrated the momentous Presidential Medal of Freedom award granted to Mr. Fred Gray.
At Mr. Gray's invitation, Institute President & CEO Ryan Haygood attended the ceremony.
“If there’s anyone who deserves this prestigious honor, it’s Mr. Gray, who changed the course of civil rights history in America,” said Haygood. “We all rightly know the names of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and John Lewis. But often people behind the scenes alter the course of history, too. Today, America recognized one of those people.”
In 1954, Fred Gray received his law degree and began his career in Alabama with one mission in mind: to destroy everything segregated.
He became the legal engine of the civil rights movement, going on to represent Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks. He was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first civil rights attorney, referred to by him as “the brilliant young Negro who later [be]came chief counsel for the protest movement."
Black-led Organizations Urge Gov. Murphy to Conditionally Veto Legislation Rolling Back Bail Reform Legislation
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Fair Share Housing Center, NAACP New Jersey State Conference and Salvation and Social Justice today wrote to Gov. Murphy urging him to conditionally veto A2426, a bill that will make it easier to detain people accused of certain firearm offenses.
A2426 weakens the Criminal Justice Reform Act – a historic bipartisan criminal justice reform law that eliminated bail for most offenses – and can provide a slippery slope to the increased detainment of people in New Jersey and exacerbate our already stark racial disparities.
New Jersey law requires that a racial and ethnic impact statement is provided for criminal justice bills affecting pretrial detention before the legislature votes on them. As this didn’t happen, it is now up to the Governor to conditionally veto the bill since proper legal process was not followed. As it stands now, it is unknown to what degree this legislation will disproportionately impact communities of color.
Institute and League of Women Voters of NJ Urge Gov. Murphy to Veto Voting Bills
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey today wrote to Gov. Murphy urging him to veto bill A3820/S2869 and conditionally veto bill A3823/S2867, both of which are on his desk awaiting action and which will, if signed, harm New Jersey’s democracy.
Bill A3820/S2869 will change the law to no longer send unaffiliated vote-by-mail voters ballots during primary elections, but instead send these voters party affiliation forms.
“This will create a two-tier system of rights for voters,” said the groups in the letter. “In-person unaffiliated voters will have until the primary election day to decide which party to join, but unaffiliated vote-by-mail voters will have to decide weeks in advance.”
Bill A3823/S2867 requires counties to update voter rolls up to 10 days before the election to remove voters who are deceased.
Democracy Advocates Urge Senate to Reject Bill Allowing Police at Schools on Election Days
NEWARK – In response to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historical Preservation Committee’s vote today to send S2912 – a bill allowing police to be present when voting is occurring at schools and senior centers – to the full Senate for a vote, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and a group of democracy advocates (listed below) issued the following statement.
“Law enforcement and voting do not go together.
“In election after election, people are intimidated by police at the polls, especially Black and Brown voters. This is the last thing we want to do given current threats to our democracy.