Protesters enraged about the death of Andrew “Drew” Jerome Washington marched to Jersey City Hall and dominated last night’s council meeting that lasted about four-and-a-half hours.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
People’s Organization for Progress Chair Larry Hamm led a chant on the steps of City Hall after they marched from Washington’s home on Randolph Avenue.
Outrage remains after a Jersey City police officer fatally shot him on August 27th. City officials said that was justified since he charged at officers with a knife, while friends and family insist he was having a mental health crisis and violence wasn’t the answer.
“Stop police brutality!” he exclaimed.
“In the black community!” the crowd responded.
Doris Toni Ervin, Washington’s aunt who has been outspoken about the way Jersey City police handled the fatal incident, said this must effectuate change.
“We’re here for Drew. This has been very hard for our family. It’s something we never imagined. We want to make sure this wasn’t in vain. We want to make sure changes are made that need to be made for people … dealing with mental health.”
She also said that the family has retained counsel so they wouldn’t be speaking on the matter much further, but added they would still fight for justice for Drew and thanked everyone for their continued support.
“24 days since Andrew Washington was murdered by Jersey City police. His family out here living with that grief,” asserted Nevin Perkins, of Black Men United.
“Let’s keep the pressure up: action on all fronts. Blasting the Attorney General’s office with phone calls is an action. Emailing your city council is an action. Signing up to speak at the city council meeting is an action. Demonstrating marching in the streets is an action. Telling your coworkers is an action. Turn that righteous indignation into organized power. We’re not outnumbered. Let’s not be out-organized.”
The AG’s office is investigating the incident and while their has been widespread calls to release the police body camera footage, it seems unlikely that will happen in the immediate future.
For example, on Monday, they released body cam footage from a Newark police officer fatally shooting a civilian back on May 3rd.
“I was here on these steps 23 years ago when Michael Anglin was killed by Jersey City police officer. Michael Anglin was 15 years old, and he was shot in the head by a Jersey City police officer who was not indicted and was able to walk away from that crime,” Hamm later said.
As he said at a rally earlier this month, Hamm also called for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to open a parallel civil rights investigation into Washington’s death.
“We don’t want a whitewash or a blue wash. We want a fair and objective investigation of what happened. We know that the powers that be want to sweep the killing of Andrew Washington under the rug. We’re going to be here as long it takes to get justice.”
During the city council meeting, LaVerne Webb Washington, no relation to Andrew, was one of dozens who lamented his death.
“What happened with the footage of what happened to him? This man came from a good family. We need answers. What happened with the money with the program?” she asked about having crisis interventionists aiding local police when needed.
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, who has advocated for the implementation of the program, said the request for proposals (RFP) has faced budgetary issues.
“We received two bids that came. One was over [the threshold], one was out of town. We did reissue it about a month ago. The RFP is out now for bid,” he replied.
“What about the … CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board)?” Washington asked.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon said they worked on it in 2021 and while it looked like significant progress had been made, a New Jersey Supreme Court decision in 2020 “gutted” what was planned – for example, subpoena power is not possible right now.
He added that the council passed a resolution asking the state legislature to pass a bill on the issue.
“We need to have independent oversight,” Solomon added.
Gilmore also reminded those in the packed council chambers that it’s up to the AG to release the body camera footage, not the city.
Additionally, Business Administrator John Metro said the RFP is coming back to the city next week, currently scheduled for September 26th.
“We should be able to issue a formal bid at the next council meeting,” he claimed.
During public comment period, Robyn Gorman said she has worked with people with severe mental health issues.
“The police are never the right first response, ever. Only half an hour was given to de-escalate. I’m outraged and sickened and emotional,” she said.
“People with severe mental illness are much more likely to be victims of a crime than commit it,” Gorman added to applause. “You can de-escalate someone who is upset, even if they have a weapon.”
She said when cops go in armed, “you’re escalating a situation. They weren’t told until hours later he died,” echoing what Ervin previously said.
Edward Perkins said he was angry at the mayor and council for not issuing the RFP sooner and claimed the city is wildly “overpoliced.”
Others echoed a similar sentiment, such as Jessica Taube, who criticized the millions of dollars spent on the new public safety building and the way police respond to calls.
“We have a really warped definition of what ‘public safety’ is … We have police going into homes with SWAT gear and murdering people. What you are doing is not working. It is killing people.”
From there, Janine Brown said her mother suffers from schizophrenia and that has led to several uncomfortable situations with the police.
“My mother’s journey could have ended like Andrew’s. Jersey City does not have resources. Nothing has changed. 25 years later, we are still sending police to send to mental health crisis. Indict the system,” she argued also calling for implementation of a CCRB.
Ann Marie Nazzaro, a member of the Jersey City Together Public Safety and Health Committee, scolded the council and administration for not implementing the program even after their group had pushed for it for over three years.
“We presented the proposal to the mayor, the police chief, and the head of health and human services. Our proposal was well researched. You send out social workers. First, you hire them. You hire them as a municipality,” she began, claiming that’s not the picture that was painted by Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea.
The National Action Network, a group backed by Rev. Al Sharpton, was represented by Steven Young who brought a fiery presence to the podium.
“Say his name!”
“Andrew Washington!” the crowd responded.
“This systemic racism has to stop. You can demand … that the Attorney General’s office release the video today!” he claimed.
Young suggested they have a no-confidence vote against Fulop due to his “callous response” to the killing during his press conference.
Even after his three minutes expired, he continued speaking, asking for police funds to be cut.
“The mayor’s offices are on that side. Thank you,” Council President Joyce Watterman said.
Michale Anthony Scott, Jr., another member of NAN, was standing behind Young and started speaking even though he was not on the list, leading to a brief confrontation.
“That’s not how it works sir,” City Clerk Sean Gallagher said.
He then walked up to Gallagher and yelled “justice for Drew!”
Gallagher asked him to back up behind the podium.
“We ask you to move back,” Council President Joyce Watterman said.
Security approached Scott, along with activists who stood by his side and blocked them, prompting Gallagher to call for a 10-minute recess. Soon after, Scott stood down and left on his own accord.
After the meeting resumed, a member of the audience exclaimed “Say his name!”
“Drew Washington,” the crowd responded.
The man leading the chant then started arguing with Watterman, who asked him to be quiet so they could hear those speaking. He was initially defiant, but eventually quieted down.
“All the individuals involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Ingrid Hill exclaimed.
Watterman then took a few moments to address the crowd and ask for levity.
“We had to pause because of a situation where emotions ran high. What I would like to explain to the public, especially those who are watching, there is a Sunshine Law that you really can’t pass that podium, that rail. Your really can’t,” Watterman said.
“And because I know this is a hot topic, I always respect people for speaking … You have innocent people in here and when people are saying that they are angry, you don’t know the people. Just like people who stormed the Capitol, there’s no saying that people won’t storm these chambers. We cannot say it won’t happen.”
She added the all the council could do at this point is pass a resolution asking for the police body camera footage to be released and send it to state Attorney General Matt Platkin’s desk.
Gallagher explained that an emergency resolution to that effect was added to the agenda and it was approved unanimously (8-0), with Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera absent.