NEWARK, NJ – Nearly 24 hours after a verdict was reached in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, Newark officials and social justice advocates gathered to call for nationwide police reform.
“It sends a strong message,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Wednesday when asked about the significance of the guilty verdict. “If you don’t change what’s going on in the system, it’s going to happen again.”
Joined by local officials and community leaders in front of the Lincoln statue on West Market Street, Baraka said that the trial verdict could serve as a notable shift in how the public views policing at a local level. Calling for a complete “reimagining” to police operations, the mayor noted more needs to be done to address the issue.
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“There needs to be a massive overhaul from the bottom to the top,” he said. “And I think it doesn’t just need to stop at the police… Police officers who do this kind of thing should be prosecuted, convicted and sent to jail. First, we should get to a point where they are not shooting us, but if we are not there, then people need to go to jail. They need to be held accountable.”
Over the past decade, city officials have undertaken multiple efforts to address policing. In 2020, officials reported that authorities did not fire a single shot. That same year, police also announced that authorities recovered 496 illegal firearms.
Although officials reported a single shot was not fired in 2020, video captured by a nearby security camera of a Newark Police Division officer fatally shooting a man was released by the New Jersey Attorney General earlier this year.
Moments after midnight on New Year’s Day, Det. Rod Simpkins, an 18-year Newark Police veteran, fatally shot 39-year-old Carl Dorsey III of South Orange. Simpkins was in plainclothes at the time of the shooting.
The footage released shows Simpkins’ unmarked vehicle stop in the street near Woodland Avenue followed by Simpkins exiting the vehicle. Shortly after, Dorsey runs toward Simpkins and the two collide, falling to the ground. Simpkins appears to pull out his weapons and shoot Dorsey as he is falling.
“The video, to me, is a little confusing, but he shouldn’t have had his gun out. Nobody else had their gun out,” Baraka said on Wednesday.
Aimed to hold authorities more accountable, officials enacted a consent decree agreement that Newark police and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into in 2016. The agreement served as a shift for the city’s authorities to improve their quality of policing through various facets of training and reforms.
Last year, the city also moved about $12 million of its public safety budget into a newly-created Office of Violence Prevention as a means to impede hate activity and violence within Newark. The plan is to close the Newark Police Department’s 1st Precinct by Dec. 31 and transition the building into a museum chronicling local activism in Newark and positive police changes. It will also hold a trauma center for health recovery and healing, and workforce development.
Newark police also established two Community Service Officers in each of the city’s seven precincts. Officers are responsible for addressing the needs within the neighborhoods they serve.
While officials have made several moves to address policing on a local scale, Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, said that Tuesday’s verdict was a legal victory, but the struggle for police reform is “far from over.”
One piece of legislation the chairman cited as a “first step towards true police reform” is the passage of a police review board bill otherwise known as “A-4656.” The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), calls for municipalities to establish civilian boards to review police operations and conduct.
“We need fundamental and revolutionary transformation in the way policing is done in this country and in the criminal justice which is rife with institutional racism from top to bottom,” Hamm said.
Alongside city officials and community leaders, two younger individuals could also be seen holding cardboard signs calling for social justice.
Jason De Sousa, an 18-year-old high school student from Elizabeth, and Giovana Castaneda, a 20-year-old student at Rutgers-Newark, said they wanted to come out the day after the verdict to show their solidarity with the community.
“We are serious about these reforms,” De Sousa told TAPinto Newark.
“This is just the first step. It’s about accountability,” Castaneda added.