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Our community is hurting. Police brutality complaints aired at meeting with U.S. attorney. | Opinion



Thanksgiving was terrible for twin sisters Myrlene Laurince-Hillaire and Myriam Laurince.


“Bernard is the one who always cooks, who made the turkey you know. We missed that,” Myrlene said. “She took that away from us.”


Myrlene is the mother of 22-year-old Bernard Placide who was killed by Englewood police officer Luana Sharpe in his home on Sept. 3. When he was shot by the officer, Bernard was in a fetal position, convulsing in his bedroom, his mother said. He was of no danger to anyone. Yet no one has been charged in his death, and she said the family is still in pain.


The Laurinces aren’t alone. Dozens of family members and friends of victims of New Jersey’s criminal justice system, who have lost loved ones from interactions with the police, are looking for justice from U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger as he tours the state as part of a listening tour. Sellinger will visit Paterson, Jersey City, Trenton, and other urban centers to listen and learn about the concerns of each community.


Last week, Sellinger visited Newark’s St. James AME Church at the invitation of Pastor Ronald Slaughter, the senior pastor at St. James AME, who organized the town hall gathering.


Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) was the first community stakeholder invited to make comments.


“I’m here tonight to express one concern and that is the issue of police brutality,” Hamm said. “We want police brutality to end in our communities, in Newark and across the state. And we feel that enough is not being done.”


For seven years POP has protested every Monday in front of the Federal Building at 1970 Broad Street highlighting the issue of police brutality. It has taken seven years for them to see anyone from the U.S. attorney‘s office.


Hamm listed for Sellinger the names of the New Jerseyeans killed by the police. The cases go back as far as 32 years ago and are as recent as a few weeks ago.


There’s the murder of Carl Dorsey, who was killed in Newark, and the racial profiling of the Rodwell Spivey brothers. The attack on Z’kye Husain in Bridgewater, the murder of Major Gulia Dale III in Newton, the murder of Bernard Placide Jr. in Englewood, the shooting and paralyzing of Jujuan Henderson, in Trenton, and the murder of Hasani Best in Asbury Park.



Lawrence Hamm addresses the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Hamm named more than a dozen people who died across the state at the hands of the police. He said, “We demand civil rights investigations into these cases. And we demand the establishment of a police review board with subpoena power.”Ande Richards |NJ Advance Media for NJ.com


Hamm said no one was held accountable for the death of Earl Faison, who was murdered in a jail cell in Orange. He demanded the re-opening of his case and justice for Philip Pannell, who was 16 years old when he was shot in the back in Teaneck.


He continued his petition for an investigation into the killings of Jameek Lowery and Jaquill Fields in Paterson, Jerame Reid in Bridgeton, Kashad Ashford in Lyndhurst, Jacqui Graham in East Orange, Basire Farrell and Rasheed Fuquan Moore in Newark, Randy Weaver in East Orange, who was killed in 1999 and left to bleed to death, and 14-year-old Radazz Hearns, who was shot seven times in the back in Trenton.


The families of several victims listened in the pews as Hamm spoke.


They came from different neighborhoods and different backgrounds but tragically their stories were the same, illustrating account after account of police misconduct and brutality. They all participated in memorials, funerals, and protests and made calls to the state attorney general seeking answers. Now, they seek legal action at the federal level. They want the U.S. attorney to open investigations into these cases of police misconduct, negligence and brutality.


Sellinger said the outpouring at that town hall surprised him. On the one hand, he realized that he needed to educate the community about his role in the judicial system. He also learned that the residents of Newark are in crisis and need his help.


“What surprised me are the political issues that are just completely outside our jurisdiction,” Sellinger said. “I will say that we do want to hear anytime somebody’s got a complaint, particularly on the subject of policing and police conduct. We will look into any complaints that we receive.”


As for the timeline for responding back to the families, Sellinger said “there is no timeline.”


For families who have waited years for a response, this is nothing new but still difficult to accept. Some community members felt hopeful while others said they reserved the right to be skeptical about any ensuing action on the part of the U.S. attorney’s office.


Sellinger and his staff defined the role of his office compared to that of local and state law enforcement departments in New Jersey. And he reminded them about his office’s findings of unconstitutional policing by the Newark Police Department and of the subsequent consent decree that was implemented.


He said, “we have worked arm-in-arm with the Newark police department to help them implement new procedures which have transformed the police department.”


He talked about hate crimes, gun violence and violations of tenants’ civil rights in housing.


He also talked about redlining. The practice of a lender or a bank refusing to lend in certain communities on a discriminatory basis. His office entered into a consent decree with Lakeland Bank for engaging in redlining in Newark. Under the decree, they are required to open a new branch in Newark and establish a $13 million loan subsidiary, which is designed to create about $130 million in loans — which is the number of loans that were deemed prevented by the redlining practice.


Slaughter, who also works with the Newark police department in the newly created position of deputy public safety director of community relations, said his key takeaway from the town hall event is that New Jersey has a U.S. attorney who is willing to personally come into neighborhoods to hear the grassroots concerns of residents.


And, Slaughter said Newark residents are very passionate to learn about the U.S. attorney’s commitment to protecting civil rights; working to eradicate white supremacy; ensuring that housing funded by the federal government is suitable; and helping us to continue the downward trend of violent crime in our community.


The U.S. attorney said he appreciated the time and commitment of those who came out, and that he plans to return to Newark.


Family members said they’ll be waiting and watching to see what Sellinger does.


“We miss him so much,” Myrlene Laurince-Hillaire said about her son, Bernard. “And we want them to be accountable for what they did to my son.”


Ande Richards wants to hear from New Jersey’s communities of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ communities, and those who feel underserved by traditional media. She may be reached at arichards@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @anderichards.


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