The Jersey City Council heard residents continue to lament the death of Andrew Jerome Washington, who allegedly charged police with a knife during a mental episode, at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The meeting began with the council doing a moment of silence, with Ward E Councilman James Solomon indicating it was to pay respect for Stefanie Kennedy and Washington.
Washington was fatally shot inside his home on August 27th after police responded to a call about a mentally ill man acting erratically.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea said the killing, while tragic, was justified given the circumstances.
“We got to do better. What happened to him can happen to our young people. It’s a disgrace. They got problems. We not training cops no more,” said LaVerne Webb-Washington, who isn’t related to the deceased.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is investigating and there has since been a call for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to open their own probe. Fulop and several other electeds, as well as community leaders, have asked for the body camera footage to be released.
Others who addressed the governing body were even more emphatic with their remarks.
“It’s a murder, in my view, by the Jersey City Police Department. I’ve been at rallies and a vigil. I didn’t see many of you there. That’s unacceptable. I’m hurt by that. I need to see your presence,” contended Edward Perkins.
He noted that at the vigil for Washington in front of his former home last week, Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore addressed the crowd and expressed frustration over the city’s crisis intervention program not being implemented yet.
“There’s been no info laid out or put forward. So, no funding, no infrastructure, nobody there to assist the police. The police, many of them, had to respond ill-equipped. We are responsible for this body. You are part of the reason why the help was not there. His family regrets calling the police. His family regrets them showing up.”
Colin DeVries, a member of the Safe Streets JC board, noted that Washington was probably traumatized when he was shot in the arm by police in 2011 and said the response to the call at his Randolph Avenue home last month was not what was needed.
“Experiencing a mental health crisis should never require the application of lethal force, yet we have built a public safety infrastructure in this city so militarized that an armored vehicle and heavily armed SWAT team was sent to respond to someone experiencing a chemical imbalance,” he began.
“And if he were known to have these episodes but was otherwise nonviolent, how can discharging something other than a taser be justified if he lashed out? This was a series of bad judgments by people not properly trained to deal with mental health crises and it led to a sick young man dying in his own home.”
He added the police are not about compassion and partnership to some applause from the audience.
“We went met with Mayor Fulop, Director Shea and [Police] Director [Tawana] Moody. We thought we had them on for funding for sending out people,” said Bill Lillis, of Jersey City Together’s Public Safety and Health Committee.
“Nothing happened. We continue to come. We’ve been at meetings in the past. We had a memorial for George Floyd calling for the hiring of outreach workers, and nothing happened Nothing happened. And Drew Washington is gone. And Mayor Fulop and Director Shea called this act of violence justified, and I cannot agree. If this act of violence was preventable, it was not justified.”
Another activist from Jersey City Together, Carol Harris, said she went to school with Washington’s mother.
“I am here today with a very saddened heart. What happened to that family should not have been. I never thought this would happen to my friend’s son.”
Jersey City Together’s Anne Marie Nazzaro said that if a mental health specialist had been present, the odds of Washington surviving the encounter would’ve been much higher.
Crisis interventionists from the Jersey City Medical Center were on the scene, but called the local police when they deemed the situation to be unsafe.
On another issue, SEIU 32BJ Deputy Political Director Elena Lavarreda noted that under a resolution on the agenda, 13 janitors who work at municipal buildings would lose their jobs and she wanted the council to table it.
“These 13 workers do not deserve to lose their jobs … Why would the city want to so few janitors?” Lavarreda began, noting that flu season is coming up and will inevitably cause workers to call out sick.
“Now these jobs are being wiped out. This doesn’t make sense,. We have reached out to the administration to discuss this important matter and have not heard back.”
Council President Joyce Watterman interjected that the contract they were voting on contained “misinformation.”
“I know the union reached out on the contract. I know there’s an appetite to carry this,” Business Administrator John Metro said.
He added Recycling Director Sonia Dublin should review the resolution further.
“So no one will lose their job?” Watterman asked.
“They’re shifting in different locations. I don’t want to misspeak,” Metro replied.
Solomon said they thought people initially would not lose their jobs, but now it looks like they might. He made a motion to table the measure, which passed unanimously (9-0) to applause.