At a Jersey City rally for Andrew Jerome Washington, a mentally ill man who was killed after lunging at police with a knife during an episode, activist Larry Hamm called for the U.S. Attorney to launch his own investigation.
The organizations Build More Unity and the Panthers Solidarity Committee coordinated the protest, which included a number of other local activists.
“We’re here for justice. This is not a celebration. We’re here for justice for Drew,” began Nevin Perkins, of Black Men United, who served as the event emcee.
“There’s a lot of misinformation being circulated. The enemy thrives off misinformation. We’re here to stand for Drew. The fight doesn’t end today. What we know is that on August 27th, Drew was killed by the JCPD. His family called for help. That call for help resulted in murder.”
The groups collectively called for the release of police body camera footage of the incident, direct monetary compensation to the family, immediate implementation of better policing policies, and a direct apology from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop what Perkins described as “callousness” when discussing the situation.
At a press conference last Monday, the day after the incident occurred, Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea indicated that the fatal shooting was justified since Washington lunged at police officers with a knife while in closed quarters.
Fulop, along with other elected and community leaders, has also called on the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office – who is spearheading the investigation – to release the body camera video.
“After Drew was shot, he was taken out by the police, and the police didn’t communicate to the family that Drew was shot! The family thought Drew might have been injured with a pellet gun… that they should hear from him soon,” Perkins exclaimed.
He referenced comments from Washington’s aunt, Doris Toni Ervin, at a vigil in front of his former house last Tuesday where she stated that the family was not informed Washington had been shot for over three hours.
Perkins further stated that money for crisis interventionists is out there and that Fulop should not have been allowed to see the body camera video before the general public.
“Our beloved brother suffered from mental illness. He was a sweet man. What we will not allow is the police and the city to say that his episode warranted his death,” Perkins declared.
“In our society, we often hear a phrase, innocent until proven guilty. Yet for Drew, this fundamental principle was turned on his head. The police invaded his home, and without due process of law, our cousin’s life was abruptly and irrevocably ended,” said Toney Perkins, Washington’s cousin, who noted that his late relative suffered from bipolar disorder.
Toney Perkins continued that a mental health condition is not “a justifiable reason for execution,” as well as that police officers “should be guardians, not warriors.”
“Now is the time for a united front. Because that’s the only way we’re going to get justice,” Larry Hamm, of the People’s Organization for Progress, said.
He explained that three families of other Black men who police had killed were present and he introduced them to Ervin. They similarly were trying to cope with mental health issues before being gunned down.
“The family didn’t even call the police! They called the crisis unit! But who showed up? The police! They showed up in a larger number, bulletproof vests on, dressed like SWAT because they came to kill! In no one else’s community does this happen,” Hamm exclaimed.
He said a similar situation would not have occurred to a white person living in the suburbs of New Jersey.
Hamm noted he was last there marching in the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“You would have thought they would have gotten the message, that they would have calmed down. They haven’t calmed down! They have killed more people!” he exclaimed.
“The police in this country kill over 1,000 people every year. And over 35 percent of those people are Black people. We’re not going to take it anymore! They came to kill!”
Hamm also noted that his organization pushed for the AG’s Office to investigate all police-involved shootings, but expressed frustration that charges are rarely brought. Therefore, he feels the U.S. Attorney should be on this case.
“I’m calling for the United States Attorney for New Jersey, Phillip Sellinger, … to launch an independent civil rights investigation into the death of Andrew Washington: You can have parallel investigations.”
He pointed out that the police officers who killed George Floyd faced both state and federal investigations before being charged. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not immediately return an inquiry seeking comment Wednesday morning.
Hamm also called for the implementation of civilian complaint review boards with subpoena power across the state.
Later, Nevin Perkins again said Fulop should not have called the incident justified while it was under investigation, before Edward Perkins, of the Hudson County Anti-Violence Coalition, recapped why the situation was tragic.
“A member of his family said she wishes she never called the police. She made that call for help, and help never came,” stated Edward Perkins.
While crisis interventionists were on the scene, he remained critical of the fact that the city never implemented a similar program approved by the city council last year.
Additionally, Ervin said the details will be announced shortly for Washington’s funeral Saturday at St. Jonh’s Church on Saturday.
“Thank you so much. Justice for Drew!” she exclaimed to the crowd, which responded with “Justice for Drew!”
Zelle Thomas, of Black Lives Paterson, noted that while Washington was dealing with mental health and had a knife, they should have handled it better so he did not leave on a stretcher before succumbing to his injuries.
“Police only know violence, They’re not trained to heal … They can’t keep you safe from a knife?” he questioned.