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East Orange, NJ community demands “Justice for Jacqui Graham” on the first anniversary of his killing by police

By David Hungerford

Lawrence Hamm with family of Jacqui Graham, mother Tawanna Graham to his right

East Orange, NJ – On July 6, 2009 Jacqui Graham, 21, was found dead in a cell in the police headquarters here. His body was naked and badly bruised. He had been arrested for public intoxication a few days before. It is evident he was beaten to death while in police custody. The victim was African-American.

A protest in front of the headquarters was held this July 6, the first anniversary of his death. The family of the victim called the protest, which was supported by friends of the victim, the People’s Organization for Progress and the New Black Panther Party. Demonstrators braved heat of more than 100 degrees to demand justice.

Najay, who said she was personally involved with Jacqui, said, “You can’t even go to jail and come home. You never know if you will make it out alive. We still have no answer for what happened. We want justice and we will get it.”

The mother of the victim, Tawanna Graham, said he had been falsely arrested. She repeatedly accused authorities of lying. “The autopsy report said there were no bruises,” she said. “The first thing I saw on his body was a humongous big knot on his head. I say to the East Orange police, what goes around come around. I’m going to make sure you pay for what you did to my son. He was beaten to death.”

Graham added, “They lied to me [that] he was in custody when they already knew he was dead,” she said. “It took three weeks to get the police report. You tell me the system is not corrupt. I saw a police report that said he scuffled with police on Sept. 5 when he died on July 6. Nobody should have to go through what I have in the last year. The mayor has not even apologized. Justice will be served if it takes the last ounce of my blood.”

Zaid Muhammad of the New Black Panther Party said, “This is only happening to our people. Injustices have an obvious racial content, as obvious as our beautiful thick lips and hair. What happened to that long litany of people who have lost their lives doesn’t happen in Livingston, in Millburn, or in Morristown. It happens because of this system we are living under.”

“They put nice words on it, ‘quality of life policing,’ and go heavy in black and brown communities. It means a young man ends up dead in a cell with his head bashed in,” he said. “We are going to demand zero tolerance. When police brutality is determined the persons responsible should be dismissed and prosecuted. If [Mayor] Bowser’s job was on the line they’d find him [the perpetrator] tomorrow. In a democracy the majority is supposed to rule.”

Lawrence Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress said, “All over the country people are marching against police brutality. This is an international problem. You know it. I know it. Even the police know it.”

Hamm continured, “In Detroit police threw an incendiary device into an apartment where Ayanna Jones, a little 7-year-old girl lived, set her on fire. Then they fired into the apartment indiscriminately and shot her to death. This didn’t happen 50 years ago in Alabama or Mississippi, it happened a few weeks ago in Detroit, Michigan. Right here Jacqui Graham never made it to the courtroom alive. He was never charged, never arraigned.

“In New Orleans right now police are on trial for the murder of Henry Glover,” he said. “After Hurricane Katrina he asked some police for help. Instead they beat him up. A Good Samaritan came along, put him in his car, took him to the police station. What did the police do? They put him in a police car to bleed to death. The Good Samaritan protested. They beat him up. They took the body to a hidden place and set the car on fire. The Good Samaritan told the story, now the cops are on trial.”

He said the only way people can get justice is to demand it. In Oakland in 2009 Oscar Grant was killed by transit cop Johannes Mehserle, who shot him in the back while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. A transit train was nearby and people took cell phone videos of the killing. Mesehrle is on trial only because people demanded it.

He said that in Chicago a former police captain has been found guilty of conspiracy. People were tortured and beaten into false confessions and went to prison for long terms. Finally the victims got together and brought a class action suit.

“We are determined to get justice for all victims,” he said. “As the police tell it, Jacqui Graham killed himself. Earl Faison killed himself. It was Amadou Diallo’s own fault he was shot 41 times. The media slant the stories. They tell you someone was a ‘former felon’ to make you think the police were justified. There is a long line of cases right here in East Orange,” he said, citing many.

“The authorities don’t count on grass-roots organizations. We will not let this case be swept under the rug,” he said. “We will not tolerate it and our ancestors did not. We are human beings, we are citizens and we demand to be treated that way. It won’t stop until citizens stand up and demand it stop. The system of racism could not exist without the police to keep it in place. They used to let mobs into the jails to commit lynching because the cops were in the Klan. It was the same mentality that led to the death of Earl Faison. Five police went to jail for that but they should have gone to jail for murder.”

He charged that the country is headed for a police state. “They can charge you with being a terrorist and disappear you, keep you indefinitely, put you in front of a military court,” he said. He concluded with a call for heightened people’s action to stop police brutality.

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