After months of protest and demands for change, where is police reform?

While activists are impatient at lack of progress, Newark Mayor Baraka urges persistence, saying it will register with lawmakers

The People’s Organization for Progress led another march in Newark on Thursday to protest another outcome it considers disappointing: no criminal charges against the Louisville Metro Police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor. The decision comes a week after the city settled a wrongful death civil suit with Taylor’s family for $12 million. Her family’s attorney and others have demanded to see what Kentucky’s attorney general presented to the grand jury.

“If a county prosecutor wants an indictment of a ham sandwich they can get a grand jury to indictment a ham sandwich,” said Larry Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress.

“Our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire,” said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. “Do we really want the truth or do we want a truth that fits our narrative?”

“It is clear to me from the outside looking in that justice was not properly served here; hard to say otherwise,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during Friday’s coronavirus briefing.

Two months after Taylor was killed, George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis at the hands of police also led to demands for change. And now, several months later, it has led to impatience among those who want reform of systems that took decades and centuries to build.

Protesters point to the fight over Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, as an example. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently upheld the legality of the board’s creation, but ruled state law does not permit a city council to empower it to compel officers to testify about alleged misconduct to the board.

Assemblywoman McKnight: ‘Tired of saying enough is enough’

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) has tweaked her CCRB bill to change state law and allow such a board to have subpoena powers.

“I am tired of saying enough is enough. I want actions,” the assemblywoman said. “I want this bill to be approved and signed into law before 2021. I am optimistic. I am hopeful and I’m working my hardest to make this a reality.”

“I’m tired of having to preface it with ‘this is not anti-law enforcement.’ This is about justice. This is about equality. This is about equity. Anyone with eyes and ears should be able to see that by now,” Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) said.

“We have a disciplinary process in place. Nowhere in that process is anything mentioned about a civilian complaint review board,” said James Stewart, president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12, on Aug. 19.

Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police is fighting the city over the Civilian Complaint Review Board in court and fighting perceptions in the court of public opinion.

“There’s work to be done, but let’s stop painting all of law enforcement as some brutal army out there that’s just crushing people because that is not what is going on. There are millions of interactions with the community that nobody hears about that are very positive and helpful to the people that law enforcement out there in general are serving every single day,” Stewart said on June 18.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka supports legislative and grassroots reform efforts.

“There’s another bill on the floor being contemplated about residency laws making police and fire live in the communities that they police. That’s a residency bill that’s on the floor right now that we need to continue to support. Those things are very present. We have to go about that stuff and fight for it. And right now, in the present sense, these things are happening. We need to take our efforts and make sure that they birth something that is concrete,” Baraka said.

He continued, “One thing that has proven to us is that our anger is not enough. It’s simply not enough. We’ve been angry for a long time. In the middle of all this stuff that’s going on nationally, they’re still killing people, there’s still no indictments, things are still not happening in the middle of all these things that we’re doing. That means we have to become more calculated in what we’re doing. Your marching and protest help other people whether you know it or not. It gives people courage who didn’t have courage, helps legislators pass laws who wouldn’t have passed them without them. It helps governors and other people sign legislation that they wouldn’t have signed without you doing that.”

The question is: what would that legislation do?