SOMA Justice’s Statement on the recent NJ.com report on police use of force:
The leadership of SOMA Justice commends the reporting on NJ.com about racial disparities in use of force by police throughout the state of New Jersey [“The Force Report”] and specifically in our two towns, South Orange and Maplewood. The role of journalism is to fill the gaps and shed light on issues important to the public, especially violations to the public trust — and this was a shining example.
We are deeply concerned by the findings that South Orange police officers are eight times more likely to use force on Black people than White peers. While South Orange often hopes to be a bastion of inclusivity and progress, this research shows a reality for Black people in our community that is riddled with bias and extreme aggression. The result is a life lived in fear of being stopped, bullied and physically assaulted by the people in whom we should trust most.
There is a clear pattern of troubling behavior that must be reckoned with by the South Orange Police Department and the South Orange Board of Trustees. We look forward to seeing concrete steps towards not only addressing the use of force within the department, but engaging the community in these much needed changes.
We are equally worried by what has been revealed about Maplewood. Although we commend the leadership of Maplewood Township for taking some important steps in the last two years to address problems in the Maplewood Police Department, these findings clearly show how the events of July 5, 2016, were not an aberration. Much work still needs to be done. The recent promotions of officers who show an extremely high disposition towards violence emphasizes how far we are from where we should be. Even more of a concern is the contact between any officer who has demonstrated violence towards children and their continued participation in police programs for children sponsored by the town.
We hope this research not only helps legitimize and empower the important work of the Maplewood Community Board on Police, but also inspires the Maplewood Township Committee to take charge in raising the importance of police reform at the state level. While not tracked here, we would like to examine how other marginalized groups, such as trans and Latino people, are impacted by interactions with police.
We look to the leaders of both towns to demand changes from the Attorney General and the Governor in terms of how the police are themselves policed and managed. And we trust that their commitment to tracking, monitoring, and being transparent about interactions between police and community members will continue and strengthen. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. We must acknowledge and admit the problem in order to address it.
Finally, we demand immediate action when it comes to allowing police officers in our public schools beyond basic, on-call security needs. In looking at the use of force against minors, it is clear to us that both Maplewood and South Orange police departments need to conduct some serious introspection and reform before we consider supporting any programs where police are brought into our schools as role models or mentors.
Now is the time for action. We hope that this important and revelatory reporting will be a catalyst for real change that has a positive impact on the most vulnerable among us who live and pass through our two towns. And we hope to continue to be a part of that process.