By David Cruz
Ordinary Newarkers, allegedly targeted by city cops over decades of systematic targeting of minorities, confirmed this week by a blockbuster report from the federal Department of Justice. Today, a call to action by leaders of a community that has been calling for protection from the police since the 1960s.
“This report is really the culmination of 50 years of hard work on behalf of Newark citizens and it shows a lot of what people already knew,” said Rashawn Davis, an organizer with the ACLU-NJ, “that up to 75 percent of stop-and-frisks in this city are unconstitutional and that black citizens of this city are being disproportionally arrested and stopped.”
The report was the result of a three-year investigation by the Department of Justice and called for a monitor to be appointed to oversee the department and make recommendations for reforms. At today’s event, some activists said they had plenty of recommendations.
“We need to eliminate internal affairs,” said Ya-Ya Davis. “Have a special prosecutor’s office, that way you can go there and file a complaint against the Newark Police Department and something will probably be done. That’s what we need to do. We need to reform; we need to change.”
Residents say they want to see a type of civilian complaint review board and a top to bottom overhaul of police management. But what will a monitor actually do to change things?
“I think they actually already did it by just taking step one by bringing national attention to the fact that there is actually a problem that’s going on,” added Sheila Montague. “That’s a first. We’ve known that there’s been a problem but now the attention is being made even more public.”
The Justice Department probe began under former Mayor Cory Booker at the behest of the ACLU in New Jersey. Since then two police directors have come and gone and, aside from some recent reporting of stop-and-frisk statistics, not much has changed in the department, say activists. Activist Larry Hamm has been on the forefront — often on his own — in the effort to expose police practices in Newark.
“People who are concerned about police brutality need to get involved with organizations that are fighting police brutality,” he admonished. “I think the most important things citizens can do is get in the streets. Let’s have no illusion about it. All of this that is happening today is as a result of mass struggle.”
Organizers here say that the Department of Justice report was just a beginning, that a federal monitor is only as good as what he or she decides to investigate. On that front, they say, they expect to be monitoring the monitor very closely.