Hundreds attended the Jersey City vigil to celebrate the life of Andrew Jerome Washington, 52, who was fatally shot by a police officer on Sunday after a mental episode took a tragic turn.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The event, which had speakers gather in front of Washington’s previous residence, 256 Randolph Ave., saw upwards of 300 people come out to show support for the family.
Nearly 20 people addressed the crowd, with almost all of them calling for “Justice for Drew” about 36 hours after city officials said at a press conference that the shooting, while tragic, was justified given that he charged at police with a knife.
“I don’t come as an elected official, but I come as a mother, I come as a sister, I come as an aunt, and I’m saying ‘just acknowledge our pain.’ Just acknowledge our pain. So often this happens in African American communities and tonight I stand in solidarity to say ‘acknowledge our pain,'” stated Council President Joyce Watterman.
“This is a very good showing of love and support for Drew’s family and they appreciate that, we appreciate that. So what we know is that Drew’s family called for help … And help never came. You understand that? Help never came because Drew’s not here,” said Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County Movement Executive Director Pam Johnson.
She also swiped at Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea, asserting that their opinion on whether or not the use of lethal force was justified “means nothing” since they aren’t in charge of the investigation.
Instead, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is tasked with the investigation and last night released the names of the two officers who deployed their taser and service weapon, respectively: Felix DeJesus and Stephen Gigante.
They are still yet to release the body camera footage of the incident, which community members and electeds including Fulop have called for already.
Doris Toni Ervin, Washington’s aunt, said that she hesitantly called the Jersey City Medical Center, who had been contacted in 2011 before an incident where Washington was shot in the arm, on Sunday since family members were concerned that he was a danger to himself.
She continued by making a stunning declaration: that police didn’t even tell her family that Washington had been shot until over three hours after the fact.
“They lied to us, telling is that they were just trying to diffuse the problem and ‘we’re gonna put him in the mobile unit.’ When they took him out, they didn’t even tell us he was even shot. ‘Oh just wait, we have a report for you guys to do,'” she told the crowd.
“And then we were just going down and he’s gonna get processed and put into the mental health ward in the medical center. Yes, it took them over three hours to even tell us that he was even shot with a bullet. We thought they used just a taser or a pellet.”
Wesley Hall, Washington’s cousin, read a statement from the mother of the deceased, indicating that if he had cancer or suffered from an asthma attack, he would’ve received medical attention.
But that didn’t happen here since mental illness is misunderstood and underfunded across the country.
“Instead of offering aid and assistance, they killed him in his own home … To take him from us and assassinate his character is unacceptable,” she added, calling for accountability from the hospital and police.
Speaking on his own behalf, Hall then noted that at Monday’s “horrifying” presser, Fulop mentioned that both a taser and handgun were deployed – a discrepancy that he believes speaks volumes.
“This was in the same breath that the mayor and the director of public safety told us that they had best in class procedures and protocols and everyone followed them perfectly and everyone listened to their supervisor,” Hall recalled.
“… A gun is lethal force and a taser is not. When they opened that door, one officer thought that lethal force was justifiable and the other didn’t or he wouldn’t have tased him. It represents an inconsistency and it represents an inconsistency that the mayor thinks we are too stupid to pick up on.”
He also vowed not to let Washington be viewed as “a speed bump on the road to the governorship.”
Another cousin of Washington’s, Toney Perkins, said we must “fight for a world where police are not the judge, jury, and executioner for those battling mental illness.”
Other elected leaders spoke as part of the program as well, including Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31), also the Democratic nominee for state Senate, who pledged to do anything she could to help on the state level.
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore also called for accountability for the mayor and council, himself included, for not having crisis interventionists working with police after approving a request for proposals last year.
“We’re sitting up here and we’re asking to get answers to the wrong questions: this is not an issue of the police vs. our family. This is an issue of underrepresented individuals in Jersey City not being heard,” he asserted.
” … We shouldn’t be here: there was an RFP issued last year that we have asked about on countless occasions because we didn’t need Drew to be taken from us, we knew that this was a real issue. All you have to do is walk up the street and walk either left or right to see that mental health is real! It is a real thing! So now people that have mental episodes, they’re stuck.”
The event ended with prayer as dozens lit candles and/or used turned on the flashlights on their cell phones as a final tribute to Washington on Tuesday evening.