A fast food restaurant torched in Atlanta, the aftermath of a white police officer shooting 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in the back and killing him after a botched arrest. Police fired the officer. The police chief resigned. The prosecutor is considering a murder charge. Critics say the deadly force was unnecessary.
While Atlanta was burning, here in New Jersey Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump demonstrators targeted Bedminster three miles from the president’s National Golf Club. Kason Little, a protester, said, “We have to make sure that justice is true and pure in our country.”
More than 1,000 marched through the streets of Florham Park. Black Lives Matter and Wind of the Spirit organizers said the police presence and surveillance made protesters feel as if they were the enemy in a war zone. Nevertheless, they held a teach-in and said what they came to say: “How much longer do we have to tell the world that black lives matter? We know they matter because they came on the shores of Africa and took us to Brazil and through Central America and South America and to the United States. We know they matter because they made money off of our black and brown bodies,” said Rev. Sidney Williams of Bethel Church of Morristown.
Among the latest actions of protesters, yanking down monuments of heroes of history now seen as villains — Christopher Columbus in Minneapolis. Frank Moran, Camden’s mayor of Puerto Rican descent, accused Columbus of committing atrocities “I believe it is and was offensive to all people of color, whether black or brown, and I as Mayor of Camden made the decision to take this statue down.”
Gov. Murphy said, “I’m less focused, frankly, on that right now than I am on what we need to do in the here and now, but I do think symbols matter.”
Among the changes demanded from coast to coast are defunding the police, an idea rejected by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who described it as a “bourgeois liberal kind of argument.”
Baraka said Newark will shift more than $11 million from the public safety budget to community organizations to address violence, trauma and some of the reasons that 25% of calls to the police are non-police related. “If you’re serious about depopulating police departments, or making them smaller, then you have to do something about the violent crime our people are plagued with because of larger issues in these communities.”
Newark is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on the legality of its Civilian Complaint Review Board. In the meantime, a state Assembly committee has approved a bill to create a board in every town. Gurbir Grewal, the state attorney general, favors a different route for oversight: “I think improving the internal affairs process to create a more transparent and robust process there.”
The president of Newark Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12, James Stewart, said, “Let’s not paint all of law enforecement as some brutal army out there that’s just crushing people, because that is not what’s going on.”
Amol Sinha, executive director of ACLU-New Jersey, said it’s time to get away from reactive approaches to reform. “What we’ve learned is that police have caused harm in many communities and we need to take steps to repair those harms and that starts with a total reimagination of what policing looks like and a call for investments in social services and a call for shrinking the toxic footprint of policing in our state and in our country.”
Protesters hope that’s the approach Congress will take as it debates police reforms.