Dear Governor Murphy: Please Sign the Independent Prosecutor’s Bill

Dear Governor Murphy,

We are writing this letter to urge you to sign the Independent Prosecutor’s Bill, marked as S-1036 and A-3115 in the Senate and Assembly, respectively.

In the past year alone, our faith and community leaders had the opportunity to meet with you at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rahway, outside Senator Menendez’s office in Newark, and after the recent 32BJ minimum wage increase rally at Newark Airport. Each time, you have continually voiced your support for advancing, supporting and signing bills S-1036/A-3115.

However, the bill has been on your desk for 35 days and you have yet to sign it. This is disheartening and disappointing. For over three years we have met with countless State Legislators to voice our community’s support for this bill. We have brought women, men and children to the statehouse who were victims of police violence and those who had loved ones killed by police while unarmed. Even President Obama made the Independent Prosecutor a recommendation in his 21st Century report for states to implement. This legislation is exactly what our state needs to address the long history of mistrust in our criminal justice system.

As a statewide multi-faith and multi-racial organization representing 170 congregation who advocate for racial, economic, and immigrant justice, we know this bill is the reform New Jersey needs to ensure justice is achievable for all families. We wholeheartedly believe that this legislation will serve as an important pathway to improving the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

Jewish law is very particular about who can bring charges: only those without prior relationships, through family or business, are considered reliable witnesses. We are taught not to incline justice – neither toward the rich or the poor, but to scrupulously fair. The important relationship between county prosecutors and local police departments is damaged when they must police each other. When we demand that justice flow like a mighty stream, we imagine that there is not only great force, but the clarity of water. The current arrangement muddies the waters of justice.

Christianity has been informed by Jesus’ concern for the poor, destitute, marginalized, and invisible. Jesus famously said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger, and those who are persecuted.” Communities of color have historically decried the menace of police misconduct and it is only recently that these cries have begun to be taken seriously. In a Democracy such as ours, where the majority rules, it will be a long time before minority populations represent a large enough proportion of the electorate to be able to legislate protections from police misconduct. But we both know that justice is not a democratic process. The problem before us, in other words, is political but the moral solution is clear. The Christian tradition compels adherents to listen to the cries of those who mourn and the persecuted regardless of whether or not doing so is popular. The bill before you represent perhaps not the greatest wisdom derived from the majority of a people, but of a clear moral choice which takes prophetic courage to support.

The Quran, Islam’s Holy Scripture admonishes peoples of faith who are placed in positions of authority and power to pass judgment on others: “O Peoples of Faith! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your close relatives, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (biases of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” [Quran 4:135]

The Independent prosecutor bill will go a long way in providing an institutional mechanism through which justice will neither be distorted or denied. Instead it will be implemented without potential conflicts of interest owing to proper oversight, accountability and transparency. It will lessen the trust deficit currently existing between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. This in turn will increase the effectiveness of law enforcement to do its critical job, via increased cooperation from the community.

As people of faith we affirm that the system of justice can and should be blind, but that we, as religious leaders representing a broad cohort of people from diverse economic, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds, are commended to amplify those voices which have been silenced or marginalized throughout much of US history – communities of color. All of our traditions, inclined our ears and eyes to those voices of the marginalized, here specifically communities of color, who have been mistreated by law enforcement and whose cries for the equal distribution of justice have been denied.

Respectfully,

Vicar Erich Kussman Westminster Presbyterian Church of Paterson

The Rev. John Zamboni St. Francis’ Episcopal Church, Dunellen

Imam Saffet A. Catovic Muslim Chaplain, Drew University

Reverend Karen G Johnston The Unitarian Society, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Pastor Amos Caley Reformed Church of Highland Park

Rev. Ann Ralosky First Congregational Church, Montclair

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman Bnai Keshet

Rabbi David Greenstein Congregation Shomrei Emunah

Rev. Serena Rice Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, Budd Lake

Rabbi Philip Bazeley Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple

Reverend Carmine Pernini Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

Rabbi Joel N Abraham Temple Sholom

Reverend Edward Bradley Archdiocese of Newark

Pastor Donald Van Antwerpen The Church in Briell

Reverend Justin Karmann First Presbyterian Church of Metuchen

Dr. Michael Granzen Second Presbyterian Church

Reverend Kathryn Irwin Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Nutley

Reverend Thad Winkle Reformed Church of Highland Park

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz Board Member – FINJ

Reverend Barry Wise Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church

Rabbi Renee Edelman Temple Sha’arey Shalom

Rev Heyward Wiggins Camden bible tabernacle

Reverend Jenny McLellan Calvary Lutheran Church

Rabbi Randall Mark Shomrei Torah

Reverend Howard A. Bryant Sr Presbyterian Church USA Retired

The Rev. Gregory Bezilla Holy Trinity Episcopal Church – South River

Rev Lara Arp Reformed Church of Highland Park

Rev. Ramon Collazo Santa Isabel Lutheran Church

Reverend Dámaris Ortega United Church of Christ

Pastor David Ford St. Matthew Baptist Church

Dr. Claudia Cohen Beacon UU Congregation in Summit

Rev. Robin Tanner Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Rabbi Ethan Prosnit Temple Emanu-El

Bishop Fred Rubin Community Refuge Church

Reverend Ronald Thompson Townley Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Christopher Belden Community Presbyterian Church

Min. Patrick Williams New & Living Way Ministries

Sr. Veronica Roche Faith in NJ

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