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ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: SandSJ Releases Statement on the Police Killing of Najee Seabrooks

For Immediate Release

Contact Richelle Terese

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: Salvation and Social Justice Releases Statement on the Police Killing of Najee Seabrooks, Paterson Crisis Interventionist

It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we offer the following statement.

We share in the immense grief and outrage of our comrades with the Paterson Healing Collective at the news of the recent shooting death of their dear brother, Najee Seabrooks, by Paterson Police Department.

Najee was a valued member of the Paterson community. He was a father, son, and a friend to many, but he was also the living embodiment of what it means to “be the change you want to see.” A survivor of gun violence himself, and a trained professional in violence intervention and prevention who dedicated his life to reducing gun violence in the city he loved, Najee was without question an integral member of the public safety community… no different and valued no less than any police officer who takes an oath to protect and serve.

Every day Najee worked alongside his colleagues at Paterson Healing Collective as a high-risk violence interventionist. Similar to his colleagues at Newark Community Street Team or Trenton Restorative Street Team, Najee belonged to a community of directly impacted folks committed to the safety and collective healing of our neighborhoods. Every day the men and women of these community-led response teams engage with individuals, often on their worst days, with a commitment to usher them to the other side of the most distressing moments. These highly skilled team members are not armed with guns but rather with the expertise, emotional aptitude, contextual understanding, and humanity that allows them to deescalate situations in a way that honors their commitment to the individual and the support and resources that is required.

The irony that Najee, who was able to navigate some of the most challenging circumstances, situations, and individuals daily with only the aforementioned tools at his disposal, would ultimately meet his demise at the hands of law enforcement is both cruel, tragic and sobering. Tragic that someone who had committed his life to leading with humanity was denied his own at a time when he was most in need. Sobering as it is yet another reminder that there are no substitutes for true community led models whereby community members play a central and integral role in crisis response and engagement.

As such, Salvation and Social Justice has put forth a list of demands for Governor Phil Murphy, the Attorney General’s office, and the State Legislature:

(1) We are calling for the state takeover of the Paterson Police Department. Paterson Police Department has proven itself to be one of the singular most violent, inept and corrupt departments in the state. Police violence is a persistent presence in Paterson, and there is zero expectation from members of the community that they will be met with the professionalism and support that is required of law enforcement when encountering the police. There have been countless examples to support this absence of trust, most recently the shooting of a man in the back by Paterson Police officer which left him paralyzed. The Attorney General’s involvement is the best option to ensure that this agency is operating in accordance with the law.

(2) We are calling for an Attorney General led comprehensive review and investigation of the Paterson Police Department which includes but is not limited to its policy practices, cases of police involved shootings, Use of force, Internal Affairs investigations, etc.

(3) We are calling for the Attorney General to use the full weight of the office to initiate complaints of all officers involved in Najee’s killing.

(4) We are calling for the immediate resignation of Paterson Mayor, Andre Sayegh, who has demonstrated an inability to promote and uphold the police conduct, standards and accountability that Paterson residents deserve, and has instead used his position to uphold some misguided defense of the “blue wall”.

(5) We are calling for the Legislature to immediately codify the Attorney General’s Use of Force Directive which would significantly strengthen protections against use of force for people in the state beyond this current administration.

(6) We are calling for the Legislature to adopt policy that would establish Community Civilian Review Boards possessing subpoena power; power to hold independent and concurrent investigations; community representation as well as a discipline matrix.

(7) We are calling for an additional $25 million dollar investment in the Community Based Violence Intervention Program that includes a public health approach to responding to community and interpersonal violence.

(8) We demand the immediate passage of legislation that would establish community led response teams throughout the state as an alternative to law enforcement responses for nonviolent substance use, behavioral and mental health calls.

“Just a few days ago, Governor Murphy responded to the unfortunate shooting of a NJ State trooper in Paterson by vowing to bring those responsible to justice. He went on to explain how the police ‘dedicate their lives to the safety of our communities and state.’ He continued, ‘Ending the menace of gun violence doesn’t just make our streets safer, it keeps them safer, too.’

Well to that I say that not only was Najee a resident of Paterson that deserved more than to be gunned down in his own home while experiencing a mental health crisis, he too was a dedicated and invaluable member of the public safety community... same as any state trooper or police officer. And as such, we fully expect the Governor and all elected officials to come out as vociferously and express the same amount of outrage for the senseless killing of this man who dedicated his life to making our streets safer. And we expect your outrage to be met with action... action that would not only hold those responsible accountable, but would ensure the systemic changes necessary to end this epidemic of police violence against Black people in this state. Given all that we know... all the data, all the evidence, the accounts and all of the senseless loss of life, anything short of this would be spitting in the face of Black people throughout the state and would further demonstrate the state’s contempt for and complicity in further harming a people that has already suffered immense injury at its hands. My heart goes out to Najee’s children, family, Dr. Chowdhury and the Paterson Healing Collective who stood with Najee when he needed them. We stand with you all NOW.---Rev Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Executive Director of Salvation and Social Justice and Pastor of Greater Mount Zion AME Church in Trenton, NJ

Advocate Partners and Organizations offer their thoughts:

Policing in communities of color (and in this country) has meant the unfair targeting and criminalization of those persons. The current idea of policing must be eradicated and a new ideal must be created and established. Policing in our communities must take a more holistic approach that doesn’t criminalize but recognize the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of who we are. People of color must be recognized in their fullness, even when in comes to policing.”--- Rev Dr. Weldon McWilliams, Senior Pastor of Christ Temple Baptist Church in Paterson, NJ

“Execution by a police firing squad for being barricaded in your own home is incomprehensible. We strongly condemn the actions of Paterson Police who prevented trained community-based violence interventionists from aiding Najee Seabrooks – a man experiencing a mental health crisis – and went on to shoot him to death. This tragedy could have been prevented with compassionate, skilled attention that was present and available. The rejection of that care is in itself a form of police violence and a compounded assault on a Black life. We’ve said the words before – tragic, unnecessary, racist, devastating. But without accountability, we will be saying those words again – and again – and again. We called on the Attorney General, as an independent prosecutor, to conduct a timely unbiased investigation and to not hold back from charging the officers for Seabrooks’ murder if the facts support that. Finally, while we must never become inured to the atrocity of police violence, we must also never forget that police violence is but one symptom of a larger and unrelenting violence against Black people in this country on every level. And anyone who thinks New Jersey is immune from this violence must wake up.”--- Ryan Haygood, Executive Director of NJ Institute for Social Justice

"Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (NCAP) condemns the killing of peacemaker Najee Seabrooks in the fullest terms! Najee was a part of an excellent groundbreaking AntiViolence program in the Paterson Healing Collective led by one of the best mental health experts and advocates in Dr Liza Choudhury. Najee was in a mental health crisis that was contained. Dr Chowdhury got to the scene only to be denied access to Najee. She was absolutely the best person to help in that situation. It was only after they blocked her that they then proceeded to kill Najee! If that is not criminal; It is certainly discriminatory. Black people cannot call police and this Mayor and Attorney General have shown us that they are not likely to hold them accountable unless we raise hell."---- Zayid Muhammad NCAP organizer.

“The family of Najee Seabrooks and the entire Paterson community need answers, but here is what we know: Najee Seabrooks should still be alive. Instead, he was killed by police when there was a well-known community group dedicated to crisis intervention available to deescalate the situation, but they were not allowed to intervene. Having a mental health crisis should not equal a death sentence. We must break this ingrained mindset that police should handle everything in our community. Very few situations require an armed police officer, and as we saw with Mr. Seabrooks, it is the very presence of police that often leads to violence. It is killing our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. We demand accountability for policing wholesale – our legislature must take steps to allow for civilian complaint review boards, public disclosure of all police disciplinary history, and to end qualified immunity. These solutions are necessary, but they are repairs to the harms caused by policing. We must also take steps to stop the harm in the first instance, and that will only come when we find real, community-based alternatives to policing before we lose another Najee Seabrooks.”--- Amol Sinha, ACLU of New Jersey Executive Director

"The People's Organization For Progress unequivocally condemns the killing of Najee Seabrooks by Paterson police. The police must be held accountable for his death. Those responsible for killing him should be fired immediately. The police should have let members of the Paterson Healing Collective and other anti-violence activists communicate with him. Had they done so Mr.Seabrooks may have lived. The police shooting and killing of Najee Seabrooks highlight the disparity in the way white people in distress are treated by the police and how black people are treated under similar circumstances. Had Mr. Seabrooks been white he probably would be alive today. The should be a federal investigation of the shooting death of Mr. Seabrooks. There should be separate investigations by both the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey and the FBI. Further, the U.S. Justice Department should do a thorough investigation of the Paterson police department. It should be placed under a federal consent decree and an independent federal monitor.”--- Larry Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress

It was just over a month ago that the video footage of Tyre Nichols’ death was made available for the world to see. Elected leaders expressed their “horror” at the footage and pledged their commitment to ensuring police accountability in this state. Well just as Tyre Nichols should be alive today, so should Najee Seabrooks, and make no mistake about it…. he would be if not for the interference and obstruction of the Paterson police who prevented professional crisis responders from providing the care and support that Najee requested and so desperately needed.

Thoughts and prayers at this time absent substantive, transformational deeds and policy amount to nothing more than a filthy rag. The time has long passed for empty platitudes.

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