With Newark police under a federal consent decree to clean up police conduct, community leaders and the independent federal monitor whose investigations uncovered civil rights violations are holding what they call a “Critical Conversation About Race and Policing” at the NJPAC. NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill was there.
Hill: Mary Alice, we’re expecting some 700 to 800 people for this conversation about race and policing here in Newark. Now on the panel tonight, the independent federal monitor for Newark, Peter Harvey, the former attorney general of New Jersey. Also on the panel, the police superintendent, the mayor, members of theNewark Anti-Violence Coalition, the dean of the Criminal Justice School of Law over at Rutgers University. Now also on the panel from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice — that’s the organization putting this on — is the general counsel and she joins us now, Ms. LaShawn Warren. Ms. Warren, thank you very much for joining us. What do you hope comes out of tonight?
Warren: Well we hope that this will be an opportunity for the community to really engage in efforts to reform the police department of Newark. Here we have an opportunity for the residents to also find out about what’s going on with the consent decree that Peter Harvey will be talking about.
Hill: This consent decree as you see it, from your organization, is almost the Bible at this point in terms of going forward with the Newark Police Department.
Warren: Yes it is. Actually, a key component of the consent decree that was entered into with the city of Newark actually provides for citizen input. So there will be a number of community surveys. And those community surveys will help inform the reform that we hope to see in the coming years.
Hill: Ryan Haygood who’s the executive director, the CEO of the organization and the president of the organization is on Peter Harvey’s team as a federal monitor. Going forward, you see this as an open book opportunity to do something with this department, to get it right now?
Warren: Yes. Actually, what we believe is that in order for us to really get it right is that we do need to hear from the community and we want to start from a place where the community actually tells their truth. And we listen to what they have to say and their recommendations. And we use those recommendations to inform what we do moving forward to improve the police department.
Hill: Seven hundred to 800 people coming tonight. What does that tell you about interest in this particular issue? When you tell people a conversation about race and policing in America.
Warren: It’s clearly a concern of the residents of Newark so we’re very excited to have people come and join us in this conversation, this very important conversation, but we also want to plug them into our New Jersey’s Community Forward initiative that is really aimed at bridging the gap between police and the communities that they serve.
Hill: How would you describe the state of affairs right now between the community and Newark police? Superintendent [Anthony] Ambrose tells us that things are improving. How does the organization see it?
Warren: I think there have been a number of concerted efforts to make sure that the community is brought on board and there have been a number of efforts to actually improve the relationships between the police and the community. I think that that is accurate. It is an ongoing process. We’re not there yet but tonight’s event is a part of making that happen.
Hill: How do you make that happen? If you had to say, I’m going to wave a magic wand and this is how this gets done?
Warren: Well I think first we have to start from a position of truth, right? So we need the community to actually talk about what their experiences have been. But then we need to pivot to opportunity. We can’t stay in the place where we just talk about tragedy and challenges. We have to talk about real solutions to address some of the issues that we see that are prevalent in our communities.
Hill: Ms. LaShawn Warren, general counsel with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.