It is clear that the events of recent months have let loose all the ugly underpinnings of the US. From politics, to foreign policy, to local community awareness, I believe US citizens are being slapped in the face with reality. We are seeing the actual cost of keeping our lives in relative blissful comfort, in no uncertain terms. Many of the events that the majority of US citizens have felt free to ignore for decades are asserting themselves aggressively in the public view.
This past week, in my “idyllic” community – Maplewood, NJ, we have had a recent realization that has shaken many to their core. They have had to face the truth that the ugly specter of police brutality can rear its head in any and all communities.
Over a year ago, after Fourth of July festivities that the township sponsors, a number of young people of color were herded from the event and forced by police officers to cross township lines. Most of these young people were actually residents of South Orange or Maplewood (a combined community that takes pride in being welcoming to all people).
Damningly, these young people were not moved toward Millburn or Short Hills (neighboring, largely white communities), but toward Irvington that is a township with a high population of African-American residents. Irvington also has a curfew regulation that would have immediately put South Orange and Maplewood youth at risk for breaking local ordinances. No surprise, that.
Imagine if you owned a blue car and your local police directed only blue cars to a neighboring town where blue cars were outlawed? Nice. That’s what Maplewood police did, and they got violent with the young people along the way. And they were instructed to do so by the chief of police. Ahead of time.
And when I say “herded” I am not being hyperbolic. The teens were removed from our community using threats of force, and at least one child was pepper sprayed for resisting being removed from his own residential area and another was punched and kicked while being arrested for not complying with an illegal police directive. The last time I checked, asking only children or teenagers of color to leave an area was against the law. I’ll be checking with the ACLU on that, after writing this reaction. I will update this post with the results of my inquiry.
For your information, this was not just a random event. There are recordings of the Maplewood police chief instructing the police to be on the lookout for “invaders” from other townships and to get rid of them. The police were not responding to an event, they were creating one. They were explicitly told to seek outsiders by sight only. If you do not see that as overt racism, perhaps you have been jaded by the other news events of the past year.
The police escalated the situation, instead of de-escalating it (their job), and instead of announcing a requirement for IDs, or curfew related to the event. Even more distressing is that, if the police had announced their intention to take these measures, there would have been an uproar in our community about being required to have IDs to attend a public event. Or even just be out at night in the summer as a young person of color. And that uproar would have been justified.
There is no reason why the police officers could not have asked the young people for numbers of relatives to confirm addresses and, at most, escort the young people to their homes. That’s what police are supposed to do. They are not supposed to handcuff children for being loud.
So, the police chief actively made a preemptive decision to keep this policy quiet to avoid being told that he could not or should not do it. Are those the actions of a person looking out for the welfare of a community? Probably not.
For your personal comfort, even though there are both video and audio recordings of wrongdoing, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office found “insufficient evidence to warrant criminal prosecution.” Of course they didn’t. They rely on local police cooperation to get anything done. What happens when police forces stop helping county prosecutors because police are held to the same standards as every other community member? Well, nothing, I guess. As evidenced all over the country, for decades.
What is more striking to me is that a community group felt that asking for a resignation and a temporary suspension of pay for the police chief is an appropriate response to institutionally-backed police brutality. Really, to hell with state regulations designed to recitivize corrupt policing. Make them take the action to court, if they are willing. The whole process is backward.
It appears to me that picking a group of young people of color and requiring them to leave a township is actually racist and is in direct violation of civil liberties laws. And this event is only getting the traction it is getting because, after a year of waiting, the recorded video and audio recordings have been released to the public, per a formal request. How many more events like this have gone unrecorded?
I worked in management consulting for years, in finance. I have been around for numerous high-level audits. In fact, the company I worked for at the time was seeking an initial public offering (IPO) and had to justify their finances prior to going public. If an auditor catches one grievous error, I can guarantee you that many, if not hundreds, of grievous errors were missed. That’s how audits work – that catching one problem indicates a much higher level of hidden problems.
This is not an isolated incident as evidenced near the bottom of the article in the link below:
“We stand in solidarity with all those who were hurt and traumatized by the experience of being mistreated by the Maplewood Police after the July 5, 2016 fireworks and with those now witnessing this event on the released video. Racial disparities in police conduct cannot be tolerated here or anywhere. We intend to be a model integrated community that is welcoming not just to people who live here, but also to the people in our neighboring towns who visit and participate in all that we have to offer—parks, public events, and more. The culture among our police officers should be consistent with the culture of the community: inclusive and anti-racist…”
I have archived this web page simply because it was startling to me that a local paper would produce an article that intimated proof of wrongdoing by a local police force. I’d rather later edits not become a problem when this event is referred to, down the road.
Back on topic, the group The Community Coalition on Race has made it clear that this is not an isolated instance, and that the police chief has been tapped for this sort of behavior in the past. What I am incredibly thankful for is that no young people have had to die to encourage measurable action from the township.
And yes, I am being critical of my local government. New Jersey is possibly one of the most corrupt states in the union, in terms of government paybacks and regulatory inertia. It is so bad that almost all of the state legislators voted against more stringent corruption regulation. Here’s some edification, for you:
That link above, by the way, is rife with links to actual issues in the state.
But, before community feathers get ruffled, it sounds like community members genuinely seek change. Unfortunately, the change they seek is always one step too short. After a conversation on Facebook
with one of the members of the Maplewood Town Council with a Maplewood Town Council candidate, I found out that municipalities do not even have control over releasing a local police chief.
In NJ, you have to have the State’s Attorney General take action, in terms of firing a local police chief. Otherwise, you have to pay the chief to do nothing (while also paying an interim chief), and have to wait for the original chief to decide to retire or resign. That’s it. It is astonishing that this sort of regulation made it to state law and completely in character for the State of New Jersey.
I suppose that. in NJ, if your chief is being investigated for murder, with video & audio proof of complicity made public, you’ll have to wait on the State AG or a conviction to fire him. That’s simply incredible. Especially in an “At-will” state where any business can cite any reason at all to fire you as a private citizen.
So, what are we left with? Well, the police chief has been asked to resign. As far as I know, he’s still being paid. We have also hired an interim chief of police. By state regulation, that’s all we can do, other than to seek criminal court recourse, which our county prosecutor refuses to do. I wonder if they require proof in excess of video and audio in marijuana arrest cases? Jaywalking? Who knows?
I suspect that most community members don’t want to use a “nuclear” option and make this a case suitable for investigation by civil liberties groups. Get the ACLU involved? “Oh no, we don’t want to do that.” Maybe that level of action requires an actual child death and national coverage/embarrassment before we can accept that the worst of the US can happen right here in our home town. And yours.
It is my most sincere hope that the Maplewood Town Council address the current problem to the best of their ability, but also become agents for change at the state and local level and make sure that Maplewood becomes a model for police reform that the rest of the nation can follow.
And to my fellow community members? I say, “Stop accepting incrementalism and work toward measurable change.” A young person’s life may depend on your efforts. Don’t get angry, get active.
CORRECTION: I have struck through inaccurate information in my post, above. I was under the impression that Maplewood Town Council member had engaged me on Facebook. I later exchanged emails with an actual TC member, who was kind enough to correct me.