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Police Riot in Essex County NJ

By David Hungerford

People Fight Back

POP Organizer Larry Hamm

Irvington, NJ – Essex County, New Jersey is the scene of intense struggle of the African-American community against police brutality and violence. On Nov. 24 police attacked a rally for community peace sponsored by the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition (NAVC) here. Three days later the people’s forces showed preparedness when they went back on the offensive at a long-scheduled rally against police brutality led by the People’s Organization for Progress.

The anti-violence rally had been called to bring attention to a triple murder in Irvington on Nov. 17. One victim, Saleena Baynes, was six months pregnant. The atrocious crime drew barely a blip of attention in the media.

NAVC Chairman Bashir Akenyele states he blamed Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase for the attack on the rally. The NAVC met with Chase and a police captain immediately after the murders to obtain permits. The Coalition wanted a peace rally that would be entirely in order. The police authorities went over the arrangements for the rally, which was to take place in a street intersection near the crime scene.

Chief Chase advised the Coalition of the types of permits needed and the procedures to obtain them. All requirements were met and the permit for the rally, in the intersection, was approved on Oct. 19. Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith and Councilwoman Sandra Jones telephoned Mr. Akinyele to tell him they would attend.

Participants at the rally gathered promptly at 5:00 p.m., since the time for the permit was 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.. “We didn’t see any police, none,” said Bashir Akinyele. They went into the intersection for the rally, as permitted. A first-arriving policeman asked to discuss the permit but the attack came before that could be done.

A member of POP who came about 5:30 told Fight Back! what he saw. He heard chants of, “Stop the violence,” as he came close. “Police cars converged from all sides,” he said. “They knocked women and children on the ground,” he said. “I saw a baby girl knocked down so hard she lost a tooth.”

Six were arrested. One was charged with ‘incitement to riot.’ It’s hard to see why, when it was the cops who rioted. The only thing the police could claim in their defense that they were trying to make participants move to the sidewalk.

Three days later, on Nov. 27, people assembled at Broad and Market Streets in Newark for the People’s Organization for Progress’ scheduled march and rally. Several had been in the Irvington rally. Cameras and video equipment were everywhere. Broadcast and media reporters were present.

The march of more than 80 people proceeded in the street down Broad, Newark’s main drag, and turned off for the rally at the headquarters of the Newark Police Department. There were no incidents.

POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm denounced the long list of police killings of African-Americans in Newark and surrounding communities. He said these things never happen in white communities. “They kill us every day and go back to work,” he said. Speaking of Basire Farrel, beaten to death last year at the age of 30 by Newark police as he was on his way home at night, he said the police “can capture bears and bring them in alive but a black man can’t even get to the jail, he can’t even get to the police car alive.”

He supported a recent filing by the American Civil Liberties Union for the appointment of a federal monitor to watch over the Newark Police Department. Speaking of the police he said, “You can make arrests but your job is not punishment. That’s why we are calling for the Justice Department to come in here.”

Of the Irvington rally he said, “They were having a prayer circle when the police charged in and threw a mother and her baby to the ground. They used pepper spray. We’ve had rallies for years and nobody every used pepper spray. I would be ashamed to live in a town where police attack a prayer circle and punch a woman in the face and she had to be sent to the hospital to see if she had a concussion.”

Tawanna Graham spoke about the killing last year of her son Jacqui several days after he had been taken into custody by the East Orange Police on a charge of public intoxication. When she came in to view the body she saw marks of severe beating. “He had an asthma attack,” she said. “He could not breathe. They sat there and watched while he died.” It took her 21 days to recover her son’s body. He had been beaten beyond recognition. The only was she could tell it was him was markings on his feet. No one has faced any penalties for his death.

POP Vice-Chairwoman Mary Weaver talked about her son Randy, shot to death several years ago by East Orange Police. He had been riding in a stolen car. The police had been watching the vehicle and gave chase when it started to move. When the car stopped they fired six shots into it. Three shots struck Randy.

“He was bleeding and begged for help,” Mary Weaver said. “Anyone would beg for help. There are all kinds of ways they let our children die. They watched him bleed to death. He was 21 years old.” She urged listeners to join an organization, stand up and fight. “My only child is gone. They take our heart away. They take our soul away.”

The struggle continues with several demands of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition. It demands that all charges in the Nov. 24 incident be dropped in the interests of justice. It further demands that Mayor Smith and the City Council convene a town hall meeting on the incident and declare community violence a public health emergency. They demand the incident be investigated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. They want local law enforcement leadership to be severely disciplined for its role in the incident. Irvington Township must also empanel its Civilian Complaint Police Review Board, which is on the books but has never been set up.

Irvington NAVC Participants

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