The New Jersey Assembly delayed a vote on Angela McKnight’s bill to help establish civilian complaint review board’s throughout the state in light of a police reform rally outside the Statehouse in Trenton this afternoon.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The demonstration called for the passage of several bills to create strong civilian oversight of police such as making internal affairs records public, criminalizing chokeholds, limiting deadly force, and ending qualified immunity.
“If the police review board don’t have subpoena power, we don’t want it,” Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) Chair Larry Hamm said.
Hamm said without subpoena power, a CCRB “doesn’t have any teeth.”
McKnight said that she understood people’s frustrations, but noted that the fight is far from over.
“This has been a long struggle and the journey will not end today. Hopefully we will get closer today but understand the journey will not end today,” she told the crowd, adding that she became a supporter of CCRBs in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year.
“After watching that horrific display of unchecked behavior by a police officer I knew I had to do whatever I could to in my power to prevent that unchecked behavior from happening in New Jersey.”
She argued that her bill is strong since it grants subpoena power to CCRBs, which would be empowered to investigate the police and recommend best practices, as well as review internal affairs investigations.
McKnight’s legislation also requires the state Attorney General to develop an electronic civilian complaint system for all police departments to post online so that members of the public can anonymously make complaint, along with authorizing $800,000 for CCRB training.
“This is one giant step towards fostering transparency, awareness, and equality in policing practices,” she added.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, whose father Amiri Baraka was advocating for CCRBs decades ago, also addressed the activists on hand.
“The military has congressional oversight and police need people’s oversight,” exclaimed Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who is in the midst of a court battle with the Fraternal Order of Police over the Brick City’s CCRB.
“ … We are asking for the ability to protect the citizens of this community against a system that has for a very, very very long time undermined our constitutional rights, overextended their authority, committed extra legal acts in the street, committed murder and homicide in broad daylight and nothing has been done over and over again.”
Baraka also noted that “George Floyd would be alive today” is a legitimate CCRB existed in Minneapolis, Minnesota to investigate prior issues with now former Officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of Floyd’s murder.
Additionally, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice Director Amy Torres said the criminalization of the poor results in brutal arrests.
“We have no confidence in a system that prioritizes secrecy over safety,” she said, noting that police records should not be this difficult to obtain.
Asheenia Johnson, of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, said African Americans in Jersey City are 500 percent more likely to be stopped by the police and have force used on them than whites.
“There was an incident that happened on Bostwick Avenue where a young man was beaten by a baton. They beat that brother across his back. They beat him, they hit him on his shoulder, they hit him in his lower abdomen and there were no charges filed against that officer,” Johnson said. “
“As a matter of fact, we’re fighting because that officer should not even be on the Jersey City police force. He was disqualified for violence years before he worked on somebody’s campaign and mysteriously appeared back on the list to become a police officer.”
ACLU New Jersey Executive Director Amol Sinha reiterated that there are calculated efforts behind closed down to water down each of the police reform bills in front of the legislature.
“There are whisper campaigns behind these walls to make sure we water down every piece of legislation. Don’t be fooled. A CCRB without its core elements is not accountability,” he said.
“While some politicians said they support reform, they’re also seeking money and endorsements from police unions. I don’t know about you, but I can’t reconcile that in my head.”
Furthermore, Newark CCRB Chair Rick Robinson noted that he was pulled over everyday on his commute from college to work, recounting an interaction with police he still remembers.
“You know you’re not supposed to be here,” officers told him.
“What am I doing to you that’s offensive?,” Robinson responded.
“You live here. That’s a problem.”
Amendments to the CCRB bill have reduced the number of board members down from seven to three, would require them to make a motion in superior court to issue a subpoena, and allow a law enforcement agency to cease a CCRB investigation that “would be significantly detrimental to its disciplinary process due to the existence of a related criminal investigation.”