Driven to action by the 2011 police killing of Barry Deloatch, and pulled again with renewed urgency onto the streets after the police killing of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Tormel Pittman of New Brunswick says he doesn’t affiliate with Black Lives Matter, and instead calls himself a humanitarian and a global advocate.
If advocates are born, as he argues, that Sept. 22nd nine years ago resulting in Mr. Deloatch’s death after his initial interaction with police at the interaction of Throop Avenue and Handy Street, focused Pittman on his life’s mission. “A man gets shot down in New Brunswick, and [the city] gives his family $300,000. That’s the salary for a police officer for three-and-a-half years,” Pittman said in 2016. “This man is dead and gone and his family got the salary of a police officer for three and a half years.”
Then came 2020.
“George Floyd was the reason I didn’t retire,” said the founder and CEO of Pittman LLC, formed to train activists in the strategies and tactics of peaceful demonstrations. “I made the mistake of announcing my retirement and the thing I saw in my in-box were text messages along the lines of ‘you can’t retire.’ A lot of people were calling because they have faith in my demonstrations, and they were telling me, I couldn’t leave.’
COVID-19 presented no special challenges, he said.
He and his allies waded in and he applied the same procedures as always, making a priority out of public safety while never losing a forceful message of justice. “I’ve always been very mindful of people not getting hurt,” Pittman told InsiderNJ. “You see video of what’s happening in some places with people yelling and screaming. Some people don’t think the peaceful way is effective, but what often happens when people can’t properly convey their message is they become frustrated.
“I know the significance of peace, but I will not lay down by any means,” he added. People will use whatever aggression against you, but I’m not Gandhi or MLK. I have a number of mentors. I’m sure in some capacity I’ve learned a lot from Lawrence Hamm and Zayid Muhammad, people who have been doing it for a while advocate. Maybe they’ve learned something from me, too.”
Married to the niece of the late Glenn Cunningham, a U.S. Marshal and United States Marine who was the mayor of Jersey City and the husband of Senator Sandy Cunningham (D-31), Pittman said he’s not anti-police.
“What it is is I’m super against bad cops,” he explained. “Police have a tough job. What I’m doing is I have a team of experts, and I’m going to take them into police departments with a specific intention of bringing police and the community together. I am taking away all the preconceived destructive notions, starting with the worst of them, namely the influence of Dave Grossman. This is a former military officer and psychologist who teaches police how to take the empathy and sympathy out of killing. He coined the term ‘killology.’ My goal is to erase that, the psychological preparation of an officer not to have a conscience when he kills.
“If you deal with one police department, you’ve dealt with them all; they operate the same way,” Pittman added. “Wherever you go, they produce the same products and the same results how could you be comfortable. We were wondering why and when the militarization became the crux of training law enforcement officers and agents, and this is exactly where it’s coming from. Dave Grossman. My job is recognizing what we’re dealing with and putting together a workshop for police and community. If we can change some of the culture, we can make a positive impact.”
Pittman said he supports Senator Teresa Ruiz’s (D-29) S-685, which the state Senate Budget Committee released in July but which has not reached the senate floor, which would permit a municipality to adopt an ordinance prohibiting an applicant from obtaining employment with the municipal police department, paid fire department, or part-paid fire department unless the applicant agrees to residency within the municipality for the first five years of his or her employment.
“It makes sense that you live in the town in which you serve,” said the advocate. “The person who lives in the community should have first dibs on any job. I would love that to be a requirement. Law enforcement should be from the community. I don’t think there’s one predominantly white community that has a predominantly black police force.”
As for his hometown of New Brunswick, “There have been some changes to the police department; some overt changes, but there are still some covert changes. New Brunswick had a police department habit of choking men just to get an arrest. It was a more rogue temperature before me. I’ve calmed that down significantly. Ultimately, it’s not us against them.”
In yet another police killing case that has preoccupied Pittman and his allies, a Kentucky grand jury this week indicted one of the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March.
“Breonna Taylor wasn’t a surprise,” Pittman said. “I think me being a father of two daughters – and if you can get that in there, my devotion to them and to my wife, I’d appreciate it – it’s a true reality check. In all honesty, I think the best thing happened. It will force people not to be complacent. There is always a double standard, and it’s time to address it. It’s unfortunate. I wish I could say I wasn’t surprised but I don’t have faith in our judicial system.”
That lack of faith extends to the two-party system and the major parties’ presidential candidates.
“I’m not pushing any candidate,” said Pittman. “I’m not fond of either candidate. I’m not a guy who chooses the lesser of two evils. Both of them have a racist overtone. My problem is most blacks will assume that if you’re white and you back Trump, you’re a racist. But you’re not racist if you back Biden. I’m not too enthused. It’s just not one of those years. Keep in mind, I voted Obama the first time. I didn’t vote for him the second time. I don’t think the black community held Obama to the same standard to which they held Trump. I’m not a Trump fan in any form or fashion. But at this point, I don’t think you’ll get too much out of a two-party system. I want people to register to vote. I don’t care who you vote for; you’ve got to be in position not to throw your vote away, but more than the presidential contest, I think people need to focus on what’s happening locally.”
Asked to share what bothers him about Biden he noted the comment the candidate made about people who back Trump not being black, and acknowledged his discomfort with Biden’s record, which includes support for the three strikes and you’re out law.
“At least with Trump, you can respect the honesty,” Pittman said.
“I’m also not a capitalist; I’m opposed to capitalism, but I’m a survivor,” he added. “People with a greater degree of comfort are in a position to make better decisions. I would say, regarding politics, that the [Democratic Party] mayor of New Brunswick [James Cahil] needs to go. He’s been for 30 years. His time should be up. Thirty years is too long for anybody to hold any seat.”