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.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today urged Bergen County Sheriff (PDF) Michael Saudino to withdraw his office’s application to the Department of Defense (“DOD”) for two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, also known as MRAPs. Bergen County’s request for MRAPs contributes to an alarming, discriminatory national trend toward greater militarization of civilian police departments at the expense of civil liberties.
On July 20, The Record reported that Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino had requested two nearly 50,000-pound MRAPs from the DOD as additions to the county’s fleet of vehicles. The ACLU-NJ’s letter, sent to the offices of the Bergen County Sheriff, County Executive, and Board of Chosen Freeholders, emphasizes the potentially dangerous consequences of deploying such heavily armored vehicles, including risks of violence, property destruction and undermined civil liberties.
“No county in New Jersey needs a combat-style military vehicle to protect and serve the community, much less two,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Adding these military-grade vehicles to the Bergen County fleet jeopardizes not only public safety, but also the critically important relationship between law enforcement and local communities. Bergen County residents are not an insurgent force, and the equipment used by law enforcement should not make them feel like the enemy.”
Use of equipment intended for military purposes can create a “warrior mentality” among law enforcement, which in turn can cause a community to feel as if they were under siege, damaging trust and cooperation. Disturbingly, this increased militarization disproportionately affects communities of color. In a 2014 national ACLU study on police militarization, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police (PDF), the ACLU found that 61 percent of people subjected to deployment of SWAT teams – short for “Special Weapons and Tactics” – for drug raids were people of color, and 54 percent of people subject to SWAT team activity in the execution of search warrants were people of color.
The DOD provides local law enforcement agencies the opportunity to receive retired military equipment for free, known as the “1033 Program,” in reference to its origins in Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997. The ACLU, in its report on increasing militarization of domestic police agencies, called on the DOD to add regulations to the 1033 Program that would restrict military equipment only to agencies that demonstrate a specific need for its use. The program itself, as well as the competitive nature of receiving this free equipment, encourages law enforcement to view combat-grade technology as appropriate for its use. The DOD requires agencies to use the equipment it obtains under the 1033 Program within a year of receiving it, giving local officials added incentive to use this equipment once it is obtained.
“There are real consequences to militarizing our law enforcement agencies, including potential discrimination, an environment of fear and mistrust, and increased risk of physical danger for both law enforcement and ordinary citizens,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Militarization of law enforcement may be a nationwide trend, but in effect, it disproportionately impacts one specific group: communities of color. The inequities in our criminal justice system mean that the objects of this intimidation, more often than not, will be the same people who face discrimination in our criminal justice system.”
Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 2008 by Grippenn.
NEWARK - In response to the announcement on July 22nd of an agreement between the Department of Justice and the Newark Police Department to reform police practices in Newark, the following statement is attributable to the following organizations:
“Today is a new day for Newark. The findings of the Justice Department investigation and the reforms agreed to by the City of Newark create an opportunity for the Newark Police Department (NPD) to make historic changes that will bring about a safer city that respects the civil liberties and civil rights of all of its residents. We urge the NPD to work closely with Newark community members as the process of reform begins.
As a diverse group of organizations dedicated to protecting civil rights and advancing social and economic justice, we share a common vision of building a respectful, accountable, and transparent Newark Police Department. We believe that reforms to the NPD are needed to promote community safety and uphold the human rights and constitutional rights of all Newarkers.
The Justice Department’s investigation found widespread police practices that violate Newarkers’ civil rights. These findings included a practice of unconstitutional stop-and-frisks, a broken police accountability system, and a record of the police department unlawfully seizing Newarkers’ personal property and punishing community members for criticizing the police. Meanwhile, Newark communities continue to suffer from high rates of violent crime and have not seen effective NPD strategies to mitigate the violence.
These factors contribute to a scenario where Newarkers face civil rights violations on a regular basis and build a case for reform of the NPD. All Newark communities—African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT people, students, immigrants, low-income people—deserve respect and a police department that contributes to their safety and dignity.
Therefore, we support three goals to reform the Newark Police Department in ways that will protect human and constitutional rights and build a stronger relationship between the community and law enforcement:
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey welcomes the announcement that the City of Newark and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) have agreed to federal oversight to preside over sweeping reforms of the Newark Police Department (“NPD”). The federal intervention comes in response to a petition filed with the DOJ by the ACLU of New Jersey (“ACLU-NJ”) in September 2010 documenting more than 400 incidents of abuse and misconduct by the Newark Police Department and calling for DOJ oversight.
The DOJ’s report includes the following findings, based on a multi-year federal civil rights investigation of the NPD:
“This is a historic moment for Newark, one that could lead to the creation of a police force that is respectful of civil rights and that is accountable to the people of Newark,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The appointment of an independent monitor to oversee reforms of the Newark Police Department affirms the findings of the ACLU of New Jersey’s 2010 petition documenting widespread civil rights and civil liberties abuses by the Newark Police Department. But today’s historic report by the Justice Department is just the first step, and not the last, toward bringing permanent accountability to the Newark Police Department. In order to ensure that oversight outlasts any one federal monitor, effective reform must include the creation of permanent, independent, and strong civilian oversight of the Newark Police Department.”
Together with Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and NPD Director Eugene Venable, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman reported the remedial measures Newark will take as part of an “agreement in principle” with the DOJ. These measures will be part of a final, court-enforced and independently monitored settlement agreement. Some of the remedial measures include:
As development and implementation of the sweeping changes that will be agreed to in the consent decree move forward, the ACLU-NJ urges the City and the DOJ to ensure that community members in Newark are partners in the process of reform. In order for these critical reforms to take root, community members must have a seat at the decision-making table.
“The City of Newark should welcome this opportunity to establish meaningful reforms of the police department, including creating and implementing policies and practices that will better ensure proper and more productive interactions between police and the communities they serve,” said Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “A partnership between the City of Newark and the Justice Department has the potential to change the police department forever, for the better.”
The ACLU-NJ first called for federal intervention in the Newark Police Department in 1967 after years of unaddressed complaints of police misconduct contributed greatly to that summer’s clashes between residents and law enforcement. In response, the ACLU-NJ filed lawsuits in 1967 calling for federal oversight of the Newark Police Department. In September 2010, the ACLU-NJ submitted a petition to the DOJ that documented 418 allegations of police misconduct, including false arrests, excessive force, unlawful stops and searches, discrimination and retaliation, as well as a broken internal affairs system. The petition was based on the study of a 2.5-year period ending in 2010. In May 2011, the DOJ announced that it would open an investigation into the reports of civil rights and civil liberties violations in the department.
“We thank Deborah Jacobs, the former executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, for her persistence in leading the charge during her directorship to make a strong, unequivocal case for the need for federal intervention,” said Ofer.
The DOJ’s remedial measures track closely what the ACLU-NJ has called for in the past, including civilian oversight, community engagement, fair and consistent discipline, an officer early warning system, and improvements to the internal affairs system.
The ACLU-NJ welcomes the Justice Department’s recommendation that Newark establish civilian review of the NPD but insists that creation of any civilian complaint review board must be done carefully and in a manner that avoids the experiences of municipalities that have established civilian review boards without creating meaningful oversight. Newarkers have been calling for a civilian complaint review board since at least 1965, and such a review board must be independent and equipped with strong accountability tools. For a civilian review board to be effective, its members need subpoena power and independent authority to discipline police officers found to have engaged in wrongdoing, as well as the ability to audit police policies and practices and make recommendations for reforms. An oversight entity must be adequately funded and must afford due process protections for all parties, including police officers.
“A weak civilian complaint review board is worse than no civilian complaint review board because it gives the impression of oversight but in fact provides no accountability,” said Ofer. “The Department of Justice will be in Newark for only a few years, but the residents of Newark will need to hold their police department accountable for decades to come.”
Since filing the petition, the ACLU-NJ has continued to document and challenge abusive police practices in Newark, including by releasing a report in February 2014 that provided the first-ever analysis of stop-and-frisk practices in Newark. The ACLU-NJ report highlighted several disturbing patterns that raise serious constitutional concerns. Specifically, the report raised concerns about the high volume of stops, the disproportionate use of stop-and-frisk against black Newarkers, and the fact that the vast of majority of stops were of innocent people. The DOJ’s findings announced today determined that up to 75 percent of NPD stops are unconstitutional.
In 2012, under the leadership of Police Director Samuel DeMaio, the Newark Police Department worked with the ACLU-NJ to craft policies to protect the rights of members of the public to record police officers on duty. The policy, which mandates officer training concerning the public’s First Amendment rights, came as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s representation of Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager pulled off a city bus and detained by police for using her cellphone to record video of officers responding to an incident. Today’s findings by the DOJ reveal continued targeting of members of the public by NPD officers for criticizing the police or engaging in other First Amendment-protected activity.
In addition, in July 2013, the Newark Police Department, in collaboration with the ACLU-NJ, adopted a data transparency policy requiring the department to release monthly data detailing the number of stop-and-frisks it conducts and the demographic information of the person being stopped, as well as information on the disposition of the stop. The policy also requires the department to report on the number of internal affairs complaints it receives and its use of force reports. The Police Department has yet to fully comply with the transparency policy. Also that month, the ACLU-NJ and other immigrants’ rights advocates worked with the Newark Police Department to stop honoring voluntary immigration detainer requests, thus helping ensure that immigrant communities in Newark may contact the police without fearing deportation.
A copy of the ACLU-NJ’s petition that led to the Justice Department investigation and more information about the ACLU-NJ’s work to improve police practices may be found at www.aclu-nj.org/policepractices.