ACLU-NJ Supports March2Justice at Its First Stop in Newark

April 13, 2015
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New Jerseyans rally against police abuses and for reform of criminal justice system

NEWARK – The ACLU of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) joined marchers participating in the 250-mile March2Justice tonight at their first stop at a community center in Newark to call for an end to police abuses and for a wholesale reform of the U.S. criminal justice system. The group included nearly 100 activists making their way from Staten Island, New York, to Washington, D.C., in a push for criminal justice reform measures.

“We are at a unique moment in our nation’s history where there is finally widespread attention being given to the problem of police abuses and a broken criminal justice system,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ, and one of the speakers at tonight’s rally. “It is fitting for this march, which spans five states, to have its first stop in Newark, a city with a long history of being plagued by police misconduct. It is now time to put an end to racial profiling and other forms of police abuses and to build a criminal justice system that treats all people with dignity and respect.”

A 2014 Department of Justice report, which came in response to an ACLU-NJ petition for a civil rights investigation, found that between 75 percent to 93 percent of all police stops in Newark lack a constitutional basis, as well as widespread racial disparities in stops and arrests and a broken internal affairs system. In response, the ACLU-NJ co-launched a new coalition, Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP), to reform the Newark Police Department. The coalition is pushing for the creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board in Newark, which can serve as a model for the rest of the nation. In addition to the ACLU-NJ, the coalition comprises 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Ironbound Community Corporation, NAACP of New Jersey State Conference, New Jersey Communities United, Newark LGBTQ Community Center and People’s Organization for Progress.

“Change starts today with a single step,” said ACLU-NJ Organizer Rashawn Davis, one of the speakers during the evening’s rally in support of March2Justice. “The next eight days represents thousands of people nationwide saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ In Newark, we are working to create a civilian review board and a host of other changes, not just for the betterment of our city, but as a model across the country. Despite recent tragedies, we have something to fight for, something to march for.”

Advocates Greet Newark Mayor’s Police Oversight Proposal with Cautious Optimism

January 20, 2015
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Newark’s leading advocates for police accountability reacted today with cautious optimism to the announcement of a planned executive order from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to establish a civilian complaint review board (CCRB) to help oversee the Newark Police Department (NPD).

The Mayor’s proposed executive order would create a CCRB with the power to receive and investigate complaints — including by subpoenaing documents and witnesses — relating to a broad array of police misconduct, as well as the power to audit police policies and practices. The proposal also includes due process protections for police officers accused of misconduct. Mayor Baraka’s announcement today also triggered the start of a 30-day period for Newarkers to provide comments to the Mayor’s office on the proposed CCRB.

N-CAP commended Mayor Baraka for taking action to advance the cause of police accountability. Its member groups urged the Mayor to strengthen the proposal to ensure the CCRB is fully independent and can meaningfully hold the NPD accountable. This includes meaningful mechanisms to ensure that discipline sticks when police officers are found to have engaged in wrongdoing.

N-CAP organizations called on Mayor Baraka to strengthen the proposed CCRB before endorsing its establishment in Newark.

“We give Mayor Baraka credit for recognizing the need for civilian oversight of the police, and we believe this proposal creates an important start,” said Melvin Warren, Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “Newark cannot afford a CCRB that lacks the power to deliver on its promise of accountability. The CCRB must be empowered to make sure that officers are disciplined when they abuse Newarkers’ rights. The days of letting the police police themselves must come to an end.”

Creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board with full investigatory powers and independent fact-finding is a central plank of Newark Communities for Accountable Policing’s (N-CAP) mission.

“We need an independent review board with the power to make discipline stick,” said Larry Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “This proposal is moving in the right direction. It is our hope that after the 30-day comment period the final version will achieve that.”

The Mayor’s announcement comes as the City and the United States Department of Justice move closer to the appointment of a federal monitor to implement a pending consent decree to oversee reforms of the NPD. A three-year Department of Justice investigation confirmed widespread civil rights and civil liberties abuses by the NPD, including unconstitutional and racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk and arrest practices, excessive use of force, punishment of Newarkers exercising their First Amendment rights, theft by officers, and an anemic, dysfunctional internal affairs structure.

“Newark has an opportunity to seize a historic moment by taking bold action to hold police accountable for misconduct,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “We commend Mayor Baraka for taking this important first step, yet this proposal as written still grants the Police Director unfettered discretion over police discipline. We hope the City of Newark will learn from the failures of other civilian review boards across the nation and provide Newark’s CCRB with the independence needed for genuine accountability. We look forward to working with the mayor over the 30 day comment period to build on his proposal."

N-CAP welcomed the opportunity to engage Newarkers in a conversation about police accountability and plans to conduct a citywide public education effort during the 30-day public comment period to generate support for establishing a strong and independent CCRB.

“N-CAP is here to ensure that all Newarkers are part of the planning of the creation of this civilian complaint review board,” said Emily Turonis, Organizer at the Ironbound Community Corporation. “We welcome the opportunity to engage our members, neighbors, friends, and community partners in generating a chorus of voices calling for genuine police accountability. It’s a new day in Newark. The time for change is now.”

N-CAP plans to advocate with the Mayor’s office to ensure that community voices are heard and community input is considered as planning for the CCRB continues.

“Newarkers have been calling for civilian oversight of the police since the 1960s and we will not rest until we have it,” said Deborah Smith-Gregory, President, Newark NAACP. “We must build effective oversight of the police department that becomes permanent in Newark and will outlast any one Mayor or federal monitor. We push forward so that our grandchildren will not have to march the same paths for justice and sing the same songs for their dignity that we have.”

“Police Accountability is a top concern for so many communities in Newark. Whether you’re Black, Latino, a student, an immigrant, LGBTQ-identifying, disabled, homeless, or a parent, we all deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Andrea Bowen, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “Meaningful accountability will increase public safety by building trust and respect between the police and all communities in Newark.”

Four of the five organizations with appointment authority under Mayor Baraka’s proposed CCRB are members of the N-CAP Steering Committee.

The N-CAP steering committee includes: 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Garden State Equality, Ironbound Community Corporation, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Newark LGBTQ Community Center, Newark NAACP, and the People’s Organization for Progress.

ACLU-NJ on Bergen Sheriff Withdrawing Military Surplus Request

December 2, 2014
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Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino is dropping a request to the U.S. Department of Defense surplus supply program for two heavily armored mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, according to media reports.

Three months ago, the ACLU of New Jersey and 150 of its supporters wrote to Sheriff Saudino urging him to withdraw from the DOD 1033 Program his application for the 18-ton vehicles specifically designed to withstand the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that ground troops encountered during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin made the following statement in response to the media reports:

“Sheriff Saudino’s decision clearly validates the concerns expressed by the ACLU of New Jersey and Bergen County residents. The best way to keep our cities and towns safe is to build trust and cooperation through community policing, not instilling a “warrior” mentality among police officers.

“The continuing militarization of local police departments is a serious concern for all of New Jersey. Officers should not be patrolling Main Street with grenade launchers and M-16 automatic rifles. Even if proper training is happening, the militarization of police is a disaster waiting to happen.

“New Jersey deserves greater transparency when it comes to decisions surrounding the acquisition of this surplus military equipment, including public discussion and approval by local elected officials, as well as strict regulations and standard operating procedures to ensure that such weaponry is used only by those with adequate training and only when absolutely necessary.”

Removal of Trenton Mural Raises Concerns

November 25, 2014
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NEWARK -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Trenton Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today called on the Trenton Downtown Association to meet with the organizations to discuss restoring a mural paying homage to Michael Brown, the teen who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo.

The storefront mural was erased last month by the city’s graffiti sandblasting equipment, apparently after the Trenton Police Department complained to the downtown association -- which commissioned the artist who painted the mural -- that the image sent the wrong message.

The mural showed Brown’s face, with stars and stripes on the shoulders of his clothing, and the words, “Sagging pants is not probable cause.”

“We believe the removal was improper both as a matter of policy and law,” the organizations said in a joint letter addressed to the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the executive director of the Downtown Association. “The mural presented an issue of significant public importance and a message that should have been embraced by officials as an opportunity for positive communication between the public and the police. Instead, the Association quite literally ’whitewashed’ the mural, its message and any opportunity it presented.”

In addition to the letter, the organizations filed Open Public Records Act requests for emails between and among the police, downtown association and the mayor’s office.

“While some Trenton police officers might have viewed the mural as sending the wrong message, it was not overtly or inherently anti-police,” ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas said. “Rather than silencing the artist, this could have been a springboard for community discussion about improving police-community relations.”

The mural was painted on the metal pull-down door of a vacant business, and according to news accounts, covered over an illegal liquor ad.

The artist, Will "Kasso" Condry, said he was approached by the downtown authority to paint a mural of his choosing. He chose the subject in consultation with peers at the SAGE Coalition, an artists’ collective that has been commissioned to paint more than a dozen murals around Mercer County.

“At this important moment in history, with so much attention being paid to police practices, it’s important to foster discussions in our community, not to suppress the opinions of one group or another,” NAACP Trenton branch president Jonette Smart said.

The letter also explains that the sandblasting of the mural interfered with the free speech of both the artist who painted it and the community which has a right to view the mural and its message.


Statement on Release of Monmouth County Jail Video

November 24, 2014
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NEWARK -- A federal district court judge last week rejected a second attempt by Monmouth County to block public access to a jail surveillance video that captured the last hours of Amit Bornstein, who died on July 29, 2010, after being restrained at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution. Today, that video was made available. 

The video was publicly filed in court earlier this year in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit, but Monmouth County requested that the video be sealed after a news organization tried to obtain a copy. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the release of the video.   

In September, a federal magistrate judge ruled in favor of public access, and the county appealed.

On November 14, 2015, a federal district court judge affirmed the decision. After examining the county’s security concerns, the court determined that, in this case, those concerns were not sufficiently compelling to warrant the sealing of the video. The court noted that there is a “strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings, which is especially applicable here where the case involves a public entity and addresses matters of public concern.” 

“Today’s release of the jail video is an important moment for the public. Jails are among society’s most closed institutions, with prisoners dependent on the government to provide their most basic needs," ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero said.

"Jail staff are responsible for the health and well-being of people in their custody," said LoCicero, who wrote the ACLU-NJ’s amicus brief in the case. "When someone dies in their care, the public should have access to as much information as possible in order to properly evaluate the actions of correctional staff involved and the work of those who investigate the death.”

N-CAP Rally at Newark City Hall

November 13, 2014
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Concerned residents, activists and others joined Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP) at a rally on the steps of City Hall and delivered to Mayor Ras Baraka more than 1,300 signatures on a petition to standing with him in support of reform the Newark Police Department.

 “Last night was the continuation of one of the greatest civil rights battles in the history of our city,” said Rashawn Davis, an organizer for the ACLU-NJ who spoke at the rally. ”The rally showed the mayor, the city council, and police leadership that Newark residents are serious about reforming the Newark Police Department and creating civilian oversight for a department that has notoriously had difficulty policing itself for decades.”

Larry Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, said, "Last night's rally was powerful. It was a milestone in our struggle for police accountability and civilian oversight. The N-CAP coalition is helping to build a strong movement for police reform."

Said George Gore of the New Jersey branch of the NAACP, “We are in this fight to the finish.”

The latest effort to reform the Newark Police Department follows a three-year civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice based on complaints filed by the ACLU-NJ. The Department of Justice report, released this summer, identified some disturbing trends:

  • Up to 75 percent of stop-and-frisk actions lack a constitutional basis.
  • Black Newarkers are 2.5 times more likely to be stopped than white Newarkers, and three times more likely to be frisked.
  • Police officers have engaged in a pattern and practice of brutality.
  • Police officers have targeted people in retaliation for lawful objections to police actions and other First Amendment-protected activities.
  • The police department’s internal discipline and accountability systems have failed.

The Department of Justice and the City of Newark are currently in negotiations before entering into an historic agreement for federal oversight of the police department and sweeping civil rights reforms. As the terms of the agreement are negotiated, N-CAP will work to ensure that the Newark police are accountable to the community.

For more information visit the N-CAP website.

Rally to Reform the Newark Police

November 7, 2014
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The ACLU of New Jersey and Newark Communities for Accountable Policing, a movement of Newark community members dedicated to building an accountable and respectful Newark Police Department, invites you to a rally on the steps of Newark City Hall for police reform.

November 12
5:30 p.m.
Newark City Hall

With the Department of Justice and Newark soon to agree on a series of reforms years in the making, the people of Newark can have a voice in creating a police department that keeps us safe and respects our rights.

Show Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that the people stand with him in changing the Newark Police Department.

Community members impacted by police misconduct, poets, and activists from Newark - including the ACLU-NJ’s Rashawn Davis, People’s Organization for Progress’s Larry Hamm, 1199SEIU’s Milly Silva, the NAACP’s John Smith, and the Newark LGBTQ Community Center’s Alicia Heath-Toby, among others, will speak out about police misconduct in Newark and the need for reform.

ACLU-NJ Applauds Bergen Sheriff for Delaying Military Vehicle Acquisition

August 28, 2014
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ACLU-NJ Applauds Bergen County Sheriff’s Decision to Hold Off on Military Vehicle Acquisition

News reports this morning indicated that Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino has announced his intention to delay the acquisition of two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department from the Department of Defense. The ACLU of New Jersey sent Sheriff Saudino a letter (PDF) on August 1 urging him to withdraw the department’s application for the vehicles.

In response to the Sheriff’s announcement, the following is a statement from Ari Rosmarin, public policy director at the ACLU of New Jersey.

“We applaud Sheriff Saudino for listening to Bergen County residents and putting the brakes on his plan to bring two battlefield vehicles to the streets of Bergen County. As the ACLU-NJ cautioned weeks ago, militarizing local law enforcement could come with troubling ramifications for Bergen County communities, and the people of Bergen County must have a chance to weigh in before such a decision is made in their name.

Bergen County is not a war zone. The ACLU-NJ continues to urge Sheriff Saudino and other Bergen County policymakers to withdraw the request for armored vehicles and to reject the militarization of county law enforcement.”

Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 2008 by Grippenn.

Newark Civil Rights, Labor, Community Leaders Outline Necessary Reforms for Newark Police

August 28, 2014
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Call for creation of civilian complaint review board, end to unconstitutional stop-and-frisks, and major changes to police training and transparency

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and 10 civil rights, labor and community organizations sent a letter today (PDF) to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, and Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels outlining 19 recommendations for the City of Newark and the United States Justice Department (DOJ) to include in a forthcoming consent decree to reform the Newark Police Department (NPD). The letter comes in response to the DOJ’s July 22nd report finding widespread civil rights and civil liberties violations by the NPD, and calling for the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee reforms of the department.

“Newark stands at a critical juncture that will define its commitment to civil rights for years to come,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Newark must seize this historic opportunity to build an accountable and effective police department that is committed to ending civil rights abuses. At the top of its to-do list should be the creation of permanent and independent civilian oversight of the police department. Without meaningful civilian oversight, even the strongest consent decree will fall short of what the people of Newark need and deserve. What Newarkers deserve is civilian oversight of the police that outlasts any one federal monitor.”

The signatories to the letter, which provides a comprehensive road map for addressing the civil rights violations outlined in the Justice Department’s report on the Newark Police Department, include: 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, American Friends Service Committee, Garden State Equality, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, Newark LGBTQ Community Center, Newark Unit NAACP, and the People’s Organization for Progress.

"Building a culture of respect and mutual understanding between Newark law enforcement and Newark residents is essential if we hope to build a safer, stronger, and more resilient city," said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "Establishing greater civilian oversight of the NPD and changing the way police engage with the community will go a long way towards creating a model of policing that is both effective and accountable."

The letter calls for 19 specific reforms of the department, designed to create permanent changes to the way the NPD operates and is overseen, including:

  • Creation of a strong civilian complaint review board with the authority to independently investigate civilian complaints of police misconduct and independently discipline police officers who have been found to engage in wrongdoing. Such an entity must be adequately funded and must include strong due process protections for police officers accused of wrongdoing.
  • Community advisory boards in each precinct to allow for increased communication and coordination among community members and police officials.
  • Prohibitions on consent searches, pretextual stops, bias-based profiling, and de facto summons and arrest quotas.
  • Transparency and accountability measures that include enhanced recordkeeping and documentation practices, expanded use of recording technology, and regulations on the creation of databases and surveillance technologies that respect Newarkers’ privacy.
  • A wholesale reevaluation of policing methods and training materials, which the DOJ found to be incorrect or unconstitutional in places.

The DOJ began its investigation of the NPD in May 2011 after the ACLU-NJ filed a petition with the DOJ in October 2010 documenting 418 allegations of misconduct over a two-and-a-half year span. The DOJ announced its findings on July 22, revealing a pattern and practice of constitutional violations by the NPD. The DOJ determined that up to 75 percent of stops in Newark had no lawful justification, and that thousands of Newarkers had been unconstitutionally stopped for lawful behaviors such as “wandering” and “milling.” The DOJ also found a pattern of police officers retaliating against individuals for engaging in First Amendment-protected speech, evidence of theft of property from Newarkers, and widespread use of excessive force by the police. Finally, the DOJ found a fundamentally broken internal affairs system that fails to adequately hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

“The people of Newark are the ones who have borne the injustices perpetrated by the Newark police, and the people of Newark have the greatest stake in building a department that is accountable to them,” said Lawrence Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “That means that the people of Newark need more than just a seat at the table in shaping reform – they need to stand as a permanent, powerful check on police abuses.”

ACLU-NJ Demands NJ State Park Police Stop Placing Social Security Numbers on Parking Tickets

August 20, 2014
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ACLU-NJ criticizes NJSPP for violating individual’s privacy rights by obtaining and then disclosing Social Security Numbers on parking tickets issued at Liberty State Park

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a demand letter (PDF) to Acting Director Terri Genardi of the New Jersey State Park Police demanding the agency stop using Social Security numbers (SSNs) as part of its process when ticketing vehicles. The ACLU-NJ was alerted of this practice after a Liberty State Park visitor, Tamara Laine, received a parking ticket bearing her Social Security number in writing.

The ACLU-NJ letter urges the NJSPP to purge all files that contain SSNs and to change their ticket forms, which clearly provide a blank for a nine-digit number. Certain ticket forms include the phrase “SOC SECURITY NUMBER” lightly on the nine-digit field. Additionally the ACLU-NJ asks for an investigation into why and how the SSNs were obtained as part of the ticketing process.

“The Park Police has jeopardized privacy rights by placing the most sensitive information a person can have – a Social Security number – in plain sight on car windshields,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas, who sent the letter. “Under the laws and constitutions of the United States and New Jersey, the government has no authority to unjustifiably collect and expose our private information. We hope the agency will explain how this breach happened, and we expect a promise that this kind of misconduct will end.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court gives SSNs the highest degree of protection. Government agencies can only obtain or disclose Social Security numbers if there is an overriding justification to do so. In its letter, the ACLU-NJ said it could find no justification for the NJSPP obtaining individuals’ SSNs. Further, the public display of SSNs on parking tickets opens up individuals to heightened risk of identity theft, as SSNs are unique identifiers tied closely to a person’s financial affairs.

According to reports, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has stated that SSNs are not normally put on parking tickets and that the placement on tickets would be a mistake and occurred in just a few instances. However, the ACLU-NJ has obtained numerous tickets issued by NJSPP in just over a two week period that indicate otherwise.

The ACLU-NJ has requested a response to its requests from the NJSPP by August 29, 2014.

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