A small but vocal group of local activists took to the streets on Monday to protest the fact that Maplewood police audio and video recordings have still not been released one year after an alleged racial profiling incident on July 5, 2016 — following the town fireworks.
Meanwhile, Maplewood’s 2017 fireworks went off peacefully on Tuesday night; however, local activists and residents expressed concern via social media that police officers were observed “tailing some black youth that were just walking home.”
This spring, an investigation by the Professional Standards Bureau of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office found there was not “sufficient credible evidence” for a criminal prosecution of Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino and Capt. Joshua Cummis for alleged racial profiling on July 5, 2016, related to an incident where a group of local teenagers — mostly black — were escorted post-fireworks to the Irvington border where fights broke out and four teens were arrested.
However, the ECPO referred a portion of the investigation back to Maplewood. Maplewood Township has hired the firm Hillard Heintze to complete the investigation. The Township expects that the investigation will be completed by the end of September.
In answer to Open Public Record Act filings by Village Green and CHS teacher Thomas Whitaker, township leaders have said that the recordings of the July 5, 2016 incident cannot be released while there is an active, ongoing investigation.
On Monday, protesters gathered at the gazebo at the Hilton Library in Maplewood then proceeded to the Maplewood Police Headquarters one block away.
The protesters — chanting “A year is too late, release the tapes!” — were led by Whitaker and Walter Fields of the Black Parents Workshop. Village Green posted an opinion piece from Fields recently calling for the release of the tapes and decrying Assembly Bill 1114, which requires New Jersey school districts to instruct students on how to safely interact with law enforcement. (Read Fields’ opinion piece here.) Fields noted that “police departments across the country have taken steps to demonstrate full transparency in some very difficult and controversial cases,” releasing video shortly after incidents have transpired.
Members of the group SOMA Justice also joined Monday’s protest at Maplewood Police Headquarters. Khadijah Costley White of SOMA Justice said that the group was working with the support of the National Lawyers Guild to monitor police activity in Maplewood and South Orange during and after the 2017 Maplewood fireworks.
Today, Costley White told Village Green, “”From what I observed, all young folks got home without harassment, assaults, or arrest after having a great time in the park. I’m just so glad to know that officers can do this the right way.”
She added, “We did, however, hear reports of police officers tailing some black youth that were just walking home, and that still raises a concern.”
In response to posts about police following youth on Facebook, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum thanked one poster for his point of view and said she would share the feedback with South Orange Chief of Police Kyle Kroll.
Collum said that police were tailing crowds in order to ensure pedestrian safety: “Please also consider when large events conclude, some chose to walk in the middle of street which was also of concern. Our law enforcement was not there to make people feel unwelcome or harassed but they have a responsibility to keep everyone safe. Valley Street and the Academy Heights neighborhood is a main thoroughfare for the large crowds dispersing from what was a great event. Many of the kids came down to Sloan Street and Village Plaza afterwards and hung out. Kids went home or were picked up. The night in South Orange went off without incident.”