By Joanne Kuniansky
PATERSON, N.J. — Hundreds took part in a vigil, march and rally outside City Hall here March 7 protesting the police killing of 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks four days earlier. The action was organized by his family and the Paterson Healing Collective where Seabrooks worked as a crisis intervener.
Seabrooks, who was Black, was suffering a mental health crisis and had barricaded himself inside his apartment. The Paterson Police Department’s emergency team responded. During a more than four-hour standoff, Seabrooks broke some water pipes and started a small fire in the apartment.
Members of the Healing Collective and Seabrooks’ family were outside the apartment, pleading to be allowed to help, but police barred them from going in.
Then police broke into the apartment. They claimed Seabrooks lunged at them with two knives. Police said they couldn’t use a Taser, because water had run out on the floor, making it too dangerous. So, they shot and killed him instead.
“I keep replaying Friday over and over. Our team of crisis responders begged the police to allow us to help,” said Liza Chouwdhury of the Healing Collective.
Teddy Martinez, Seabrooks’ supervisor, said, “I’m begging the officer, showing them text messages, things that Najee is saying to me — ‘all I want to do is see your face and I’m going to come out.’ I told the officers this. They did not allow us in.”
“I believe that if the police had just given them the opportunity to talk to him, the outcome could have been different,” Valerie Freeman, a member of the Paterson Board of Education, told the media.
In a similar case in 2015, law enforcement officials, including the same police emergency response outfit, let a social worker speak to a man with a machete in a locked apartment. He gave himself up.
Pastor Charles Boyer, founder of the Salvation and Social Justice group in Trenton, told the crowd the Paterson police “have blood on their hands from decades of snuffing out Black lives. We need to see the Paterson Police Department taken over by people who have a heart for Black people.”
Rally organizers called for the city to identify the officers responsible for the shooting, release all cop body camera footage of the confrontation and place the officers involved on administrative leave. Other demands raised at the protest include establishing a civilian complaint review board, and the resignation of both Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes and Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale.
Thousands have signed a petition with these and other demands circulated by Black Lives Matter Paterson. After City Council member Michael Jackson told the rally that only 20 protesters would be allowed inside the building where the council was meeting, a small group began to push through the barricades. The majority remained disciplined with many shouting, “We don’t need this, we need to be organized.” The disruption was stopped.
“The Socialist Workers Party stands with working-class families like Najee Seabrooks’ fighting for some measure of justice for their loved ones killed by the police,” Lea Sherman, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New Jersey General Assembly, discussed with fellow protesters at the rally.
“But the police can’t be reformed or reorganized to serve our interests under capitalism — this is a class question. Police spying, cop brutality, the capitalist rulers’ ‘plea bargain’ system and their prisons are all essential tools for them to try and prevent working people from fighting to overturn the oppression we face,” Sherman said.
“Police pay special attention to workers who are Black, who have shown — as in the mass proletarian movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation — their capacity to fight and lead broad social struggles,” she said. “The goal of the propertied rulers is to intimidate, divide and weaken the working class as a whole.”
More than 500 people have been killed during encounters with police officers statewide over the past two decades, the New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention statewide coalition reports.
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