Updated September 14, 2017 from the MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission: “Upon discussion with our student leaders, the Black Parents Workshop and the MapSO Freedom School are postponing tomorrow’s MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearing. The event was scheduled for 6:30 pm at Columbia High School in Maplewood. The students felt they needed more time to prepare, and organize students to attend, and were hampered in their planning given the school year just started. We are also mindful of the personal circumstances of several of our commission members and want their full engagement. It is our intention to reschedule the hearing as quickly as possible so we may continue the work we have already set in motion to improve policing practices in our communities.”
For further information contact Walter Fields, Black Parents Workshop (973) 738-7876 or Thomas Whitaker, MapSO Freedom School, (973) 738-2205.
Repercussions from the release of Maplewood police audio and video from events of July 5, 2016 continue as a new group has formed “to foster better relations between the African-American community and local police in Maplewood and South Orange New Jersey.”
The newly established MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission is a joint effort of SOMA Black Parents Workshop, led by Walter Fields, and MapSO Freedom School, created by Columbia High School teacher T.J. Whitaker.
Fields and Whitaker announced the formation of MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission in a release to media today. The two men were the public face of community calls for the release of the police reports and tapes which showed police kicking and punching a handcuffed teen, as well as directing local teens out of town and across the Irvington border after the town fireworks in 2016.
Whitaker filed an Open Public Records Act request for the materials (as did Village Green). Fields and Whitaker worked together to stage a protest in front of police headquarters in early July and wrote letters and opinion pieces to keep public focus on the the topic.
The audio and video, released in late July, prompted the Maplewood Township Committee to call for Police Chief Robert Cimino’s resignation, cast a vote of no confidence in his leadership and place him on 60-day administrative leave. The TC also placed Capt. Joshua Cummis on 30-day administrative leave — a period that has since been extended. (An Essex County Prosecutor’s Office investigation into the events that concluded this spring found insufficient credible evidence to prosecute Cimino and Cummis for racial profiling.)
After suspending Cimino and Cummis, the TC appointed Acting Captain Jimmy DeVaul as Acting Chief and Lieutenant Albert Sally as Acting Captain until further notice.
Later in August, Columbia High School graduate Jason McDougall, 17, announced he was seeking financial damages in excess of $1 million and punitive damages in a federal lawsuit. McDougall is the handcuffed youth seen being punched and kicked by police in the video.
According to the release today, MapSO Citizens will hold its first event on September 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Columbia High School: “The first public hearing will focus on the Maplewood police department and specifically citizen interactions with police during the period 2002-2015, essentially the tenure of ousted Chief Robert Cimino. Individuals are invited to share their experiences in oral or written testimony. We are particularly interested in hearing from teenagers and young adults from our two communities, and neighboring municipalities.”
Acting Chief Jim DeVaul, who met recently with Whitaker and Fields, has “agreed to be present at the Commission hearing as a passive ‘listener’ in the spirit of taking steps toward reconciliation,” according to the release. “It was agreed upon that legal issues notwithstanding, the work of instituting changes in police practices and rebuilding trust between the police and the public must begin now. The Commission is not a prosecutorial process but a vehicle to allow the real-life experiences of residents in their interaction with our local police to be heard, and to use these accounts to help educate the public and inform the reform process.”
Those interested in participating can sign-up the evening of the event or contact the SOMA Black Parents Workshop with name and telephone contact at [email protected] or through the contact form at the bottom of the home page of the website, www.blackparentsworkshop.org.
Read the full press release here:
Efforts Continue to Address Policing in Maplewood and South Orange
Community Groups Form Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission
(Maplewood, New Jersey) – The SOMA Black Parents Workshop and the MapSO Freedom School have announced the formation of the MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Based on the post-apartheid South African model, the Commission has been established to foster better relations between the African-American community and local police in Maplewood and South Orange New Jersey.
The impetus for the creation of the Commission was the July 5 2016 incident following the Township of Maplewood’s Independence Day fireworks event when Black youth were directed out of town under the direct orders of Police Chief Robert Cimino, and verbally and physically assaulted by some officers. Upon the release of videotape and audio recordings from that evening, showing clear evidence of police misconduct, the Maplewood Township Committee placed Chief Cimino on administrative leave and demanded his resignation. In prior action, the Township Committee hired the firm Hillard Heintze to investigate the operations of the Maplewood police department and develop a set of recommendations for departmental reforms.
The Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission will hold its first public hearing on Thursday September 14 at 6:30 pm at Columbia High School, 17 Parker Avenue in Maplewood. The first public hearing will focus on the Maplewood police department and specifically citizen interactions with police during the period 2002-2015, essentially the tenure of ousted Chief Robert Cimino. Individuals are invited to share their experiences in oral or written testimony. We are particularly interested in hearing from teenagers and young adults from our two communities, and neighboring municipalities. Those individuals who wish to speak must simply sign-up the evening of the event or contact the SOMA Black Parents Workshop and send us your name and telephone contact at [email protected] or through the contact form at the bottom of the home page of our website, www.blackparentsworkshop.org.
Thomas Whitaker, a teacher at Columbia High School and the founder of the MapSO Freedom School, led a year-long crusade on behalf of young people who were affected by the actions of Maplewood police on July 5, 2016. Mr. Whitaker, who also works with student organizations in the high school, remarked, “Most residents know the behavior of the Maplewood police during Chief Cimino’s tenure, but the Truth & Reconciliation hearings can play a significant role as our local social justice movement grows. Not only will public testimony shine a light on the history of harassment and profiling, but also validate and empower our youth who were abandoned the night of July 5, 2016.”
SOMA Black Parents Workshop Chairman Walter Fields noted, “The events of July 5, 2016 have left an indelible mark on the communities of Maplewood and South Orange, and in particular have deeply troubled African-American residents. The first step toward communal healing and reconciliation is providing a platform for those injured by civic institutions to express their truth through their personal stories. As someone who was on the ground in South Africa following the end of apartheid rule, I can attest that the cleansing effect of a process such as this is difficult to describe.”
The Commission will be chaired by SOMA Black Parents Workshop Trustee James Davis. Individuals have been asked to serve on the Commission on a voluntary basis, with a commitment of up to 25 hours for public hearings and review of citizen testimony. The full list of Commission members will be released later this week.
The oral testimony will be recorded, and along with any written testimony submitted, will be provided to the Township of Maplewood, Hillard Heintze, and the offices of the New Jersey Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey. The sharing of the testimony is for informational purposes and in the spirit of creating a pathway toward meaningful policing reforms that will build trust and support for local law enforcement within the community, and particularly among Black youth.
Following a recent meeting between Acting Maplewood Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul and Thomas Whitaker and Walter Fields, the acting chief agreed to be present at the Commission hearing as a passive “listener” in the spirit of taking steps toward reconciliation. It was agreed upon that legal issues notwithstanding, the work of instituting changes in police practices and rebuilding trust between the police and the public must begin now. The Commission is not a prosecutorial process but a vehicle to allow the real-life experiences of residents in their interaction with our local police to be heard, and to use these accounts to help educate the public and inform the reform process.
MapSO Freedom School teacher and Columbia High School alumnus Ike Onyema explained, “When specific members of a community are viciously targeted and terrorized by police over decades, a simple apology will not suffice. It’s incumbent upon the state apparatus to listen to the stories of the deep wounds they have inflicted. Police must confess their wrongs. Then, maybe, this institution will be prepared to make the requisite sacrifice to change their behavior and give up their privileges. Since, however, the likelihood of police volunteering to do this is slim, it’s important to empower youth to employ every creative means to force this abusive power structure to change its ways.”
Whitaker added, “The hearings are merely the first step in a very long road to healing and reconciliation. Historical injustice on the part of the police must be acknowledged, and forgiveness must be earned through action and accountability moving forward.”
During the public hearings, members of the commission will only ask questions to clarify citizens’
testimony and seek elaboration if testimony is not clear. Questions that are biased in their positioning of citizens’ testimony will not be allowed. Commission members will review all testimony for the purposes of cataloguing citizens’ concerns and to provide input going forward in the police reform process.
The MapSO Citizens Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearing is open to the general public. Media organizations will also have access to the hearing.