It was the deadliest day for law enforcement officers since 9/11. Community unrest in the wake of the Dallas police slaying and police-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. Here in New Jersey, NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz has been monitoring the rallies held throughout the state.
Cruz: Briana, good afternoon. We are outside police headquarters here on Clinton Avenue in Newark where a demonstration has just gotten underway. It is part of a weekend planned of activism as this community reacts to the devastating events of this week.
The images and the sounds are disheartening. A peaceful demonstration in Dallas ends in violence, with five police officers killed and seven others injured. This, after a week where police in Louisiana and Minnesota killed two black men under questionable circumstances, all of it caught on video, creating a palpable tension among those who would express themselves in protests and those who are sworn to protect them. In Newark today, the mayor and police director were trying to walk the tightrope between providing law and order and protecting freedom of speech.
“What we are asking is that people do this in a manner that is not destructive, not violent, not violent to themselves, not violent to property, not violent to other people in this community and in this city,” said Mayor Ras Baraka.
But Dallas has altered the equation, here and across the country. Even in Newark, where there is a long tradition of activism, and where police have been given generally high marks for their handling of protests, the police director said his department will be taking extra precautions for demonstrations planned for this weekend.
“There will be two-officer units starting 7 p.m. at night to 7 a.m. in the morning. My fear is that I believe in the Newarkers; I believe in the clergy and I believe in the community, but we have to worry about copycats, so what we didn’t worry about before, what we didn’t worry about yesterday at this time, we have to worry about it now,” said Newark Police Director Anthony Ambrose.
A demonstration yesterday shut down McCarter Highway and Market Street. Police kept their distance from demonstrators and redirected traffic. But yesterday was only a prelude to what are expected to be larger demonstrations this weekend and Monday, when the People’s Organization for Progress will lead a march. Chairman Larry Hamm’s community activism goes back four decades.
“The only thing I can think of that comes close to the times that we’re in now would be the late 1960s. We’re not quite there, but conditions are coming there,” Hamm said.
Hamm says keeping the pressure on government is the only way to force change, but some Newarkers seemed almost without answers for how to deal with the violence and the anger that seems to be roiling the nation.
“I believe it’s all out of control. It’s like gotten to a point like where there’s no respect for lives completely. Everyone is just, like, reacting and killing, just not taking precautions, especially people that we look up to,” said Newark resident Sandra Rivera.
“I’ll just leave you with this. Martin Luther King Jr. said that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that. And that’s just something that we really nee, human beings, as a people, we need to evolve, think about and act like that,” said Madrid Smith of Newark.
Does he think there’s enough love and enough light out there to turn this around?
“Yeah, I’m a hopeless optimist,” Smith said.
Cruz: Back outside police headquarters, joined now by Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose. Director, thanks for sticking around and talking with us.
Ambrose: Thank you.
Cruz: So you talked in our story about your fear of copycats. We’ve heard some reports now of some police being targeted in a variety of cities across the country. That’s got to give you great pause.
Yes, it does. That’s one of my great concerns, is that we’d have some copycats of these events. We’ve had no threats so far. Our emergency service unit and our police definitely checked this area for any vulnerable situations and so far we’re in pretty good shape. We’re going to continue to monitor these events and make sure that there’s no threat to the officers or to the people that are protesting.
Cruz: Has your department gotten any threats this week or in the last 24 hours?
Ambrose: No we have not. No threats at all.
Cruz: But you’ve taken some precautions in this area specifically, no?
Ambrose: Yes we have. Earlier on, we did some strategic tactics we used to ensure that this area is safe, again, I repeat, for the officers and for these protesters. It was rendered safe and we’ll continue to monitor it throughout the duration of this protest.
Cruz: And so, you said in our story also that you’re going to have two-person units from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. until further notice. You’ve also taken some other steps to ensure better community police relations, yeah?
Ambrose: Yes I do. We also had a meeting with our clergy alliance and we’re going to be deploying clergy members with our police officers in certain areas of the city on certain assignments to be used for community relations and also to be mediators in case there’s something that should jump off.
Cruz: And this is a department that has over the years had its problems with community relations. You are now under a federal consent decree that everyone hopes is going to change that situation, but you’re here monitoring demonstrations where people here are not saying, “We love the Newark PD.”
Ambrose: Yes. You know, we have an obligation to make sure that they’re safe. They have the right, from the First Amendment, right to say what they want and have a peaceful and orderly demonstration. We hear them loud and clear. I am working with U.S. Attorney Fishman and our monitor. We’re having meetings. And I think that the monitor can only make the police department do better and be better and stand better with the community and improve the community and engagement with the police department.
Cruz: You’ve been a cop for a long time on a number of different levels. What’s your reaction when you see five cops shot under whatever circumstances, but particularly under these circumstances? What was your gut reaction when you heard this news?
Ambrose: Well, you know, as a law enforcement officer, it’s sad because the people that were out there that got shot last night, I once wore that uniform out in the streets and it could happen to me. So I feel bad for the department, I feel bad for their families and also the injured officers. It’s something that scars the police department for a while and I think that will build the department and make it stronger. But it’s a point where, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to be on the lookout. It’s a statement coming that enough is enough and that we have to be aware of that.
Cruz: I’m going to leave it there. Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, thanks for taking the time.
Ambrose: Thank you.