At an emotion-packed meeting Tuesday night, the Maplewood Township Committee demanded the resignation of Police Chief Robert Cimino, and placed him on administrative leave for 60 days, effective immediately, after casting a vote of no confidence in his leadership. The TC also placed Capt. Joshua Cummis on leave for 30 days.
With hundreds of protestors — many of them local young people — packing the court room, lining the walls and spilling out into the lobby, more than a year of pent-up anger, hurt, and frustration came to a boiling point. Community members took to the podium to denounce the actions of some Maplewood police officers on the night of July 5, 2016, following Maplewood’s annual Independence Day fireworks, and with Cimino’s leadership, which some say has perpetuated a culture of bias and racism against youth of color in the community.
Several people, including members of the Township Committee, took pains to emphasize that they didn’t wish to tarnish the reputations of the police force as a whole. Rather, they want to get to the root of the increasingly frayed relations between local law enforcement and people of color.
Later that night, the Township Committee voted to appoint Acting Captain Jimmy DeVaul as Acting Chief and Lieutenant Albert Sally as Acting Captain. Meanwhile, representatives of the firm of Hillard Heintz, hired by the township to conduct an independent investigation of the incidents, told the TC it would complete its report by the end of September. Concurrently, the MPD’s internal affairs department investigation continues.
The SOMA Black Parents Workshop has called for the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to investigate the Maplewood Police Department.
Below are portions of some of the public statements made Tuesday night.
Members of the Maplewood Township Committee expressed their disgust with some of the police treatment shown in the audio and video, but said that they were legally limited in what they could say or do:
The incidents were “sickening and unacceptable” with “black children herded like cattle” into the adjacent town of Irvington, “Leadership matters … the abuse of power and racial bias is disgusting.” -Frank McGehee
The events of July 5, 2016 caused an “erosion of trust.” Township officials must “talk the talk and walk the walk” to improve racial relations in the town. -India Larrier
“I am appalled and disgusted … no one should have to experience that..”.The community “waited too long for the tapes to be released, unnecessarily so. This is not the town I live in…” -Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams
“We are appalled by the excessive force used by police officers against a group of young people. We are appalled by decisions that were made by leadership of our police department, and we want to set the record straight — that that type of behavior is not going to be accepted in Maplewood, and that the police department is going to right themselves.” -Mayor Vic DeLuca
Several young Maplewood and South Orange residents of color spoke of their experiences of being mistreated and profiled by the police in both towns.
“Black youth in Maplewood and South Orange have been subject to harassment and profiling by both police departments for years. We no longer see them as a line of defense. I have had multiple friendly encounters with some of our officers and I genuinely appreciate them for doing their job properly. However, what I will not do is praise those that consider themselves above the law and abuse their power, like Chief Cimino….What happened to our youth on July 5th of last year was definitely profiling…Maplewood and South Orange love to sugar coat incidents in which people of color are harmed, offended or treated unfairly. If the Maplewood you live in is ‘stigma free.’ we must be living in two different Maplewoods because where I live, white children are not herded out of town towards Irvington and white children are certainly not harassed by people that they learned were supposed to protect them.” – Jordan Fields
In Maplewood and South Orange, there is an “unspoken rule [for black youth]; don’t walk on Valley, [instead] walk on Ridgewood … I am a moving target. An unspoken form of policing happens in this community…” –A young South Orange resident
Several speakers took to task the Community Coalition on Race, for what they called its slow and ineffective response to the crisis, as well as local clergy and the school district for its failure to act.
“The CCR is part of the institutional machinery…” and its inaction is “morally reprehensible.” Local clergy “betrayed their calling.” –Walter Fields, SOMA Black Parents Workshop.
The CCR should “apologize to the youth … you cannot be a bystander … you cannot get on the train after it’s left the station.” –Anselm Lebourne
“We were not involved because we were not informed.” –Audrey Rowe, Program Director, CCR
“It does no good for us to be against each other.” – Barbara Velasquez, CCR Trustee
One speaker called out the young people as also being responsible for the events that night, noting fights that broke out and that one teen spat on an Irvington Police officer:
“You [youth] also have to show respect for authority … I’m not condoning the police, but you are at fault too … not all the kids are innocent here!” –Carla Caraballo
Carabollo’s statement was followed by shouts of indignation from the audience. Several speakers directly addressed her comments.
“We have shown respect, and we’ve been lynched; we have shown respect, and our women have been raped; we have shown respect, and we have been shot in the back like animals … nothing the youth did warranted the excessive abuse that was shown them.” –Walter Fields
“No one should lose their life because of the mistakes of youth.” –Avery Julien, CHS ’17, Candidate for Board of Education
“Many of us moved here because it’s a progressive town … the irony of this event is that it followed July 4th, Independence Day … What if the kids weren’t from here? They still shouldn’t have been treated that way.” –Paul Williams
[Addressing Mayor DeLuca:] “Why did it take so long? … Deal with [Cimino] because if you don’t, the community will!” –Aunt of young man arrested in Maplewood several years ago
Several people singled out Thomas (TJ) Whitaker, a Columbia High School teacher and head of the MapSo Freedom School, for his “dogged determination” in pressing the issue since shortly after it happened, speaking of it at numerous TC and Board of Education meetings, and demanding the release of the audio and video recordings from that night.
“When I came here a year ago, this room was empty. I said I’d be back with the community — here we are.” –TJ Whitaker, CHS teacher