NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will empower New Jersey citizens by distributing information about our rights when confronted with police misconduct or abuse at New Jersey rail hubs today. The organization also submitted supplemental information to the petition it filed last month with the Department of Justice detailing additional misconduct in the Newark Police, as well as a petition from residents of Newark in support of federal investigation.
"Our top priority for today is educating citizens about their rights when confronted by police misconduct," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director for the ACLU-NJ. "It's essential that we exercise our rights - it's use them or lose them."
To help citizens of New Jersey prevent police abuse and confront it as it happens, volunteers from the ACLU-NJ will distribute “know your rights” cards at heavily trafficked train stations in Newark, New Brunswick, Princeton and Hoboken during morning and afternoon rush hours.
Each year the ACLU-NJ distributes approximately 12,000 of the wallet-size resources, known as bust cards, and posts them in English (1mb PDF), Spanish (1mb PDF) and Portuguese (1.3mb PDF) on its website (www.aclu-nj.org). The organization regularly holds forums and workshops throughout the state educating people about their rights.
Today's bust-card blitz is part of coordinated ACLU-NJ efforts to bring oversight to New Jersey's police, including advocacy to reform the Newark Police Department, the state's largest municipal department. The ACLU-NJ filed a supplemental petition to the DOJ (82k PDF) adding new allegations of misconduct the organization has found since filing a petition with the Department of Justice last month.
Since filing the petition Sept. 9, the ACLU-NJ learned of 13 more lawsuits filed during the petition's original study period, between Jan. 2008 and July 2010, bringing the total number of suits filed during that time to 64. Since July, citizens have filed at least three more lawsuits alleging police misconduct, and two officers have had criminal charges filed against them.
Since the ACLU-NJ submitted its petition, the taxpayer bill for case settlements continues to rise. Ramon Guzman received a settlement of $300,000, bringing the settlements paid by city taxpayers for police misconduct to more than $5,000,000 over the past three years. Guzman, who could not read English, was coerced into signing a false confession admitting to crimes he did not commit and spent 10 months in jail before his charges were dismissed.
Further bolstering the original petition, Newark community activists today "submitted a petition of their own", with 402 signatures calling for federal intervention.
"We hope the Department of Justice will hear and heed our pleas for help," said Dadisi Sanyika, Political Action Director of the Newark Unit of the New Jersey NAACP.
Flavio Komuves, senior counsel of the ACLU of New Jersey, said that the new incidents described in the supplemental petition support the ongoing need for federal intervention.
"The new data show that the NPD is beset with serious and systemic problems that need to be addressed through federal help and an independent monitor," Komuves said. He added that one of the reforms touted by the NPD, an early warning system for potentially troublesome officers, has been put on hold while the police union pursues a grievance about the matter.
"Even the officers' resistance to a performance-monitoring program speaks volumes about the ingrained lack of accountability in the NPD," Komuves added.
The ACLU advocates for best practices in policing to prevent the abuse of citizens. The ACLU also frequently represents police officers (44k PDF) whose civil liberties have been violated.