Newark’s community of grassroots leaders rallied on City Hall steps Thursday, March 29, to condemn a state judge’s ruling against their new Civilian Complaint Review Board.
In 2016, under the initiative of Mayor Ras Baraka, the City of Newark put together the strongest CCRB in the country. The Fraternal Order of Police immediately got an injunction from the state court to be heard on how the new board would undermine officers’ rights. That hearing finally took place two weeks ago, and Judge Donald Kessler said, among many athings, that the city did not have the authority to empanel such a board unless it was allowed to do so according to N.J. State Attorney General guidelines. He also said that the city cannot have two separate bodies investigating the same case or issues. Most infuriating, he also said that with the board being composed of members who belong to organizations historically critical of the police, the city runs the danger of turning the issue into a political football.
Kessler presented his ruling orally over three hours to a full courtroom of CCRB supporters after a 45-minute oral argument by both parties.
At the rally, Deborah Smith-Gregory, chair of the Newark chapter of the NAACP, took Kessler on squarely on that point when she said, “For the judge to say that we are political groups and that this is a political issue speaks to the fact that he is the one being political, that he is making a judgement based on his own politics.”
She pointed out that the struggle for a meaningful Civilian Complaint Review Board in Newark goes back at least as far as 1964, under protests led by the late Bob Curvin.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey was there. Zayid Muhammad for Newark Communities of Accountable Policing reminded everyone of how important the role of the ACLU’s cutting edge investigation and report on Newark Police misconduct that went to the U.S. Justice Department played in moving the ball forward to where there is now a federal monitor over the Newark police until some essential reforms take place.
“The Constitution entitles the people of Newark to policing that treats people fairly and respects their rights,” said Diana Houenou in a statement for the ACLU delivered by Allison Peltzman.
“We know that the police have failed to police themselves. We are confident that in the end, Newark will have a strong CCRB. Newarkers deserve nothing less.”
Emily Turonis, Christian Rodriguez and Jessica Valladolid of the Ironbound Community Corporation brought a dozen young people to the rally. They came from ICC’s Environmental Justice Leaders program and their neighborhood youth bicycle program, the Down Bottom Bike Crew. The young bikers taped NCAP’s Accountable Policing Posters to their bikes. The Environmental Justice Leaders held the NCAP banner.
“These are the young people who are so badly affected by police misconduct,” said Peltzman. “There needs to be a place for the most vulnerable to be able to report on misconduct, for LGBTQ people, for the homeless, for sex workers, for undocumented people for Black and Brown people. That’s why we’re going to fight until we get it.”
Law student Tyler Dougherty of the Rutgers Newark chapter of National Lawyer’s Guild said how inspired she was by the people’s power that came together to push for the new review board and how they are rallying in defense of the new board.
“It’s people’s power that really changes things in history,” Dougherty said.
Ingrid Hill, veteran activist and vice chair for the People’s Organization for Progress, surrounded by members in their well-known “bold gold” hoodies, and by members of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, made it plain when she said simply and bluntly, “Newark needs police reform all the way through and the CCRB is a must.”
The City of Newark is appealing Judge Kessler’s decision.