Social and racial justice activists form new coalition to push for police reform statewide

By: - October 29, 2021 6:50 am

An August 2020 protest against police brutality in Newark. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Keilan Scott knows all too well about police violence.

In 2018, relatives called for help when Scott’s brother-in-law died at the family’s Fort Lee home.

“But they didn’t come as if they were assisting,” Scott said. “They came as if a crime was in progress. They approached as if they were raiding the house.”

After a relative made a rude remark, chaos erupted, and officers punched, kicked, and used a stun-gun on Scott, arresting him and his wife, Winifred, he said. Scott later sued, and it took two years of litigation for the couple to get five felonies purged from their record, he said.

So Scott was among the first in line to join a new coalition called New Jersey Communities for Accountable Policing that formed to fight for police reform. The group of social and racial justice activists has been quietly working for a year to advocate for several reform bills now before the New Jersey Legislature, but officially launched this week.

They want to stop excessive police power, end the grip of police in communities of color, and mobilize citizens to join their work to change police policy and practice.

“Justice is not just getting our hands out of the cuffs. Justice is for them to be held accountable, monetarily, prosecutorially, and legislatively,” Scott said.

They plan to lobby lawmakers in the coming lame-duck session to act on currently stalled bills that would:

The group also is calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to veto a bill lawmakers passed that would allow police to review body camera footage before writing their reports.

“Since George Floyd, New Jersey has not produced a single piece of legislation that advances the ball on police accountability,” said Yannick Wood, director of criminal justice reform for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We’re asking for police to be accountable to the communities in which they serve. That’s democracy. It’s very foundational, and yet we’ve had pushback on that.”

Justice is not just getting our hands out of the cuffs. Justice is for them to be held accountable, monetarily, prosecutorially, and legislatively.

– Keilan Scott

Coalition members said investing in communities, instead of expanding police budgets, would prevent crime by alleviating its root causes, such as poverty and addiction.

“The safest communities don’t have more cops. They have more resources,” said Zellie Thomas, a Black Lives Matter organizer from Paterson.

Police departments’ efforts to rebuild relationships with distrustful citizens through things like “coffee with a cop” will fail without meaningful moves toward reform like increased transparency, one reformer warned.

“If New Jersey residents can obtain disciplinary information about other regulated professions like lawyers and plumbers and nail technicians, there is no reason why police officers shouldn’t also have their records public, particularly because they are carrying deadly weapons,” said the Rev. Antoinette Moss of Black Community Watchline.

More than a dozen grassroots groups are members of the coalition, including the ACLU of New Jersey, Latino Action Network, New Jersey State Conference NAACP, New Jersey Prison Justice Watch, Office of the Public Defender, People’s Organization for Progress, and Salvation and Social Justice.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.