Maplewood elected leaders had a broad ranging discussion at their regular Township Committee meeting last week addressing racial incidents that have rocked the community in recent weeks and months.
The conversation, placed on the agenda by Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams, didn’t just cover the mock slave auction and slave auction posters in the schools (among other incidents) that have garnered international press coverage, nor the recent anti-Semitic graffiti in the South Mountain Reservation, but also alluded to allegations of racial profiling by the Maplewood Police, one of which is currently under investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We all believe that our diversity … and our delight in it is what makes Maplewood the great town it is,” said Adams. “It’s why we live here,” adding that she and other leaders have “grown concerned when we see and hear things that are not acceptable.”
“There have been incidents between the police and the public about which we cannot legally comment but it does not mean we are not thinking about them or are not concerned about them,” said Adams, alluding to the racial profiling by the police. Despite noting that the TC has no control over school-related incidents, Adams called them “deeply disturbing,” but she returned to the racial profiling: “Even though we can not speak about them publicly, our silence is deafening. The public needs to hear from us as the governing body.”
Adams called on the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race [CCR] to lead the conversation, saying that the towns and the district could not due to “legal issues and relationships.”
“We need to start with a conversation in our towns,” said Adams. “We don’t shy away from uncomfortable issues. We talk and we listen and we work to make things better.”
Mayor Vic DeLuca responded by saying that he had been in contact with Robert A. Marchman, the Chair of the CCR, and noted that he had been in several meetings with Marchman at the schools and with Chief of Police Robert Cimino.
“I would say that Mr. Marchman did express his desire to take more of a lead, get the CCR involved,” said DeLuca. The Mayor noted that one conversation between him, Marchman and Cimino included going beyond coordination of the Coffee with a Cop program and focused on bringing police and youth together more — perhaps through the Hub or YouthNet.
(In response to a request for comment, the CCR sent a letter detailing its response to recent events. Read it here.)
Greg Lembrich, Chair of the TC’s Public Safety Committee, updated the governing body on his committee’s efforts, noting that the Police Department “was under a legal obligation and does comply with 2005 NJ Attorney General directive with respect to profiling, and I’d also like to point out that all of our officers … from the Chief all the way down … are undergoing this year mandatory training on racial bias, which including implicit bias, de-escalating violent encounters and the use of force.” Lembrich noted that the town and MPD were working on implementing this training even before the state mandated it.
Lembrich added, “Just because we are not talking about it because we are not permitted to, I’d like to assure the public that the TC is taking these issues very seriously and are doing whatever we can and … when the time comes to take any public action that we are committed to doing so.”
The Mayor noted that Cimino had written a story about the training and that it will be published in the Maplewood Leaflet shortly.
The Mayor also noted that he would be attending the School District’s Town Hall on Equity and Inclusion addressing the school incidents, to be held March 29, at 7 p.m. in the Columbia High School cafeteria.
Township Committeemen Frank McGehee thanked Adams “for bringing this to the public” and called recent events “deeply troubling.”
“As a parent first and foremost I’m deeply troubled,” said McGehee, noting the the incidents had prompted conversations in his home. “In my opinion, this does not define what the character of Maplewood is. I’m happy to hear that we are striving to do better especially on the law enforcement front.” McGehee also commended Principal Dara Gronau at Maplewood Middle School and the police for starting aprogram called “Maplewood Mentors” which will link students with auxiliary police officers.
Regarding the recent incidents, McGehee sounded pained, saying, “It’s something people ask us about all the time – on the train, on the Avenue, in the Village.”
Mayor DeLuca mentioned possibly getting Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos to visit the TC in future, but noted, “He’s under a lot of stress right now.”
Adams returned to her point of wanting a more formalized structure for action and communication from the CCR on addressing the recent incidents. She said, “Mr. Marchman taking a more proactive approach couldn’t happen at a better time, but those conversation maybe need to be taken to a larger level of forums.”