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HomenewsAfter the Death of Najee Seabrooks, Why Are New Jersey Bills for...

After the Death of Najee Seabrooks, Why Are New Jersey Bills for Civilian Review Boards Still in Limbo?

Efforts to establish local civilian boards that would investigate allegations of police misconduct have stalled for more than two years in the New Jersey legislature.

Social justice activists assert the lack of progress on those reforms has sent a disturbing message of non-accountability to law enforcement officers. According to them, the inaction has perpetuated problems that have led to incidents such as the recent fatal police shooting of Najee Seabrooks in Paterson.

According to Jason Williams, an associate professor of justice at Montclair State University, both political parties lack the courage to enact meaningful reforms to the police force.

In 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd, a bill was drafted that would permit cities to form civilian complaint review boards. Similar bills were introduced in January and March of 2022, but neither the full state Senate nor Assembly has voted on any of them.

“It’s disgusting that nothing has been done,” said Newark activist Larry Hamm, “especially in light of all the statements made by elected and unelected officials about how terrible George Floyd’s death was.”

According to Williams and Hamm, the majority of public officials engage in rhetorical pandering rather than taking action.

Hamm stated, “There is a lot of smoke surrounding police reform, but nothing that will have a significant impact.”

Newark established a civilian review board in the middle of the previous decade, but police unions filed a lawsuit challenging the Brick City’s ordinance on the grounds that it violated state Attorney General Guidelines for disciplining law enforcement officers.

This case was brought to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which in August 2020 struck down significant portions of Newark’s law, including those that gave the civilian board investigative powers, on the grounds that the city ordinance exceeded the legislatively granted authority.

Where the Legislation Stands

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter of Paterson stated that she was among the primary sponsors of a bill designed to provide cities with the civil review board powers that the Supreme Court stated were lacking. Sumter stated that the mayors of the state’s three most populous cities, Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson, supported the bill during committee hearings.

Sumter stated that her Assembly committee ultimately approved the legislation. However, legislative leaders never brought the bill to a full vote, and it died during the 2020-21 legislative session.

Sumter stated that the version of the bill introduced during the current legislative session underwent revisions that affected “nuances” such as whether review boards should be established at the county or municipal level.

During the legislative review, police unions in New Jersey have not expressed outright opposition to the bill, according to Sumter. She stated, however, that the unions identified the nuances that required change.

The leaders of the state police union could not be reached for comment on this story.

Sumter stated that she has requested the Senate president and Assembly speaker to post the current version of the review board for committee vote since the beginning of 2022. As committee chair, Sumter stated that she does not have that authority.

Sumter stated that neither the president nor the speaker flatly refused to put the bill to a vote. In contrast, they have simply ignored her requests.

Paterson Press contacted Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, both Democrats, to inquire as to why the civilian review bill has not been introduced. Neither party responded to this report.

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly of Paterson, a co-sponsor of the bill to establish a review board, was frustrated by the bill’s lack of progress.

Wimberly stated, “This seems like common sense to me.” “This would safeguard governments and safeguard citizens. “So why not?”

When asked why the bill has languished, Wimberly stated that law enforcement opposition is the most significant factor.

Activists Seek New Review Board Effort After Seabrooks’ Death

The Day After Seabrooks, a Violence Intervention Specialist, Was Shot and Killed by Police, the Paterson Chapter of Black Lives Matter Cited the Establishment of A Civilian Complaint Review Board as One of Its Demands.

According to Law Enforcement Sources, Seabrooks Was Brandishing Multiple Knives and Lunging at The Police when He Was Shot. Friends and Family of Seabrooks Stated that The Police Overreacted by Entering the Apartment of A Man Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency.

Members of The Paterson Healing Collective, Where Seabrooks Worked, Asserted that He Would Still Be Alive if They Had Been Permitted to Communicate with Him During a Standoff Lasting More than Four Hours on March 3.

Sumter Stated that She Hoped the Recent Tragedy Would Foster the “political Will” Necessary to Support the Civilian Review Board Plan. She Stated that In the Past Legislators Believed They Lacked Sufficient Support for Passage.

Sumter Stated that She Would Increase Her Efforts to Get the Bill Voted On.

Paterson Press Asked the Press Office of Governor Phil Murphy if He Supports the Bill and Has Attempted to Move It Forward in The Legislature. Murphy Spokesman Tyler Jones Cited What He Termed Police Reform Initiatives, Such as Mandating Body Cameras and Requiring the Attorney General and Grand Jury to Investigate and Review Police-Involved Deaths.

Murphy Has Made It Clear in The Past, According to Jones, that He Supports Giving Civilian Complaint Review Boards Subpoena Power, and His Position Has Not Changed.

However, the Murphy Administration Declined to Comment on Whether the Governor Exerted Any Political Pressure to Advance the Sumter Legislation in Either Chamber of The Legislature.

What the Proposed Legislation Would Do

Members of The Review Board Would Be Appointed by The Mayor and Required to Receive State-Mandated Training Under the Proposed Law. Complaints Regarding Police Excessive Force and Other Forms of Misconduct, Such as Offensive Language or Misleading Statements Made to Citizens During an Investigation, Would Be the Sole Subject of The Board’s Review.

According to The Proposed Law, the Board Would Be Authorised to Review the Internal Affairs Files of A Police Department and To Subpoena Witnesses and Documents. the Board Would Provide the Mayor and Police Chief with Reports and Recommendations.

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The Bill Requires Law Enforcement Officials to Provide a Written Response to The Board’s Recommendations Within 60 Days.

Social Justice Activists Attribute the Lack of Legislative Action to The Influence of Law Enforcement Supporters and Suburban White Voters, Despite Sumter’s Assertion that Police Unions Have Not Publicly Opposed Her Bill.

“this Demonstrates how Powerful Unions Are,” Said Professor Williams of Montclair State University. “they Don’t Even Need to raise their voices to have an effect.”

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Parvesh
Parvesh
Parvesh is the Content Writer for New Jersey Local News. Here at New Jersey Local News, she covers local news of New Jersey state. Moreover, Parvesh likes to dance and listen to music. She also finds time in her hectic schedule to relax and spend time with loved ones.
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