New Jersey Civil Rights Leaders Laud the Signing of Momentous Independent Prosecutor Bill A3115/S1026

Today, Governor Murphy signed historic legislation mandating that the Attorney General appoint an independent state prosecutor to investigate and present evidence to a grand jury any time a person is killed during an encounter with law enforcement or in custody.

 

The law also requires that the grand jury proceeding, and any prosecution that follows, must take place in a county outside of the one where the incident took place. This law is a critical first step to removing conflicts of interest when local prosecutors handle investigations.

 

For decades, Black communities, and communities of color more broadly, have been under disproportionate assault by the criminal justice system. New Jersey is the worst state in the nation in terms of Black to White racial disparities in both the criminal and youth justice systems. Our state has a shameful history of racial profiling with the state police. Our laws have been unequally enforced and have been particularly devastating to Black communities.

 

Further, recent incidents in Bordentown and Bergen County have only fortified what we have known for years: explicit racism permeates every stage of New Jersey’s criminal justice system.  And the recent release of NJ Advanced Media’s Force Report has shed indisputable light on the fact that Black people are disproportionately the recipients of police abuse, even though White people are more likely to have weapons and use force on police.

 

As leading advocates and religious leaders, this issue is one of intense importance and consequence to our communities. We look forward to working with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to build a system that affirms the humanity and respects the dignity of all New Jerseyans by, among other things:

 

  • Implementing community oversight of local police departments;
  • Unifying reporting standards and systems;
  • Requiring culturally competent implicit bias and psychological analysis & de-escalation training;
  • Removing problematic officers;
  • Mandating in-car and  body-worn cameras and the public release of footage; and
  • Developing a truth and reconciliation process to faithfully deal with the history and evidence of abuse.

 

The passage of this bill is evidence of the power of a unified Black agenda, supported by the collective strength of the Movement for the 94 Percent coalition. This advocacy of this movement, built from the ground up in communities across New Jersey, led to the successful passage of this bill, along with an important change to sentencing practices with racial impact statement legislation, and the closure announcement of youth prisons. And we have demanded racial justice issues be at the center of the cannabis debate.

 

But we are just getting started.

 

Please join us at First Bethel AME Church in Paterson on February 16, 2019 at 11 AM to discuss next steps for our movement.

 

While the independent prosecutor law is not a solution to everything, it is an important step in the effort to build a relationship of trust that has not existed in many communities of color, and Black communities in particular, with law enforcement.

 

We are encouraged by the Governor’s recognition of that reality, as reflected in his signing of this bill.

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