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New Jersey: POP members jailed for protesting police brutality

By David Hungerford

People’s Organization for Progress (POP) members

Plainfield, NJ – Four members of People’s Organization for Progress (POP) were arrested here Nov. 17 during a peaceful rally. They were protesting against police brutality and the violence that is permitted to rage in low-income communities.

At about 11:00 a.m. the four – Steven Hatcher, Jeff Hitchcock, Zackariah Jackson and Stuart Rosenberg – were in a small downtown park. They were distributing a flyer and holding signs that said, “Stop police brutality,” and “Peace in the streets.” Hatcher is the chairman of the Plainfield branch of POP. They had been there for 15 to 20 minutes when a police car drove by. Two cops got out of the car and said, “You aren’t allowed to do this without a permit.” The four were told to put their signs away.

They remained in the park holding their signs, however. Two held their signs visibly and two held them at their sides. Five minutes later the cops returned. The same cop as before told them they could not have a demonstration, although the four were just standing there.

A police captain also approached. He looked at the flyer the group was distributing and demanded to know what the rally was about. Hatcher explained it was against police brutality like the recent killing of Coppin Kiel in New York and also against violence that recently took the life of a youth in Plainfield. The captain replied, “That doesn’t happen on my watch.”

POP member Rosenberg was asked, “What is your name? What is your address?” Rosenberg asked why the police needed his address. He was then grabbed and handcuffed. Hatcher told the police he was the chairman of POP and was himself handcuffed. The other two men were then handcuffed and arrested. By this time there were four police cars and a van at the scene.

The four were taken to the Plainfield police headquarters and mug shots were taken. They were charged with unlawful assembly and released.

“We demonstrated before in a vigil for Rosa Parks and nothing happened,” says Hatcher. “We have demonstrated before many times. It is absolutely clear to me that we were arrested because our flyer and our signs were against police brutality.”

The next day 40 people showed up at 3:00 p.m. at the Plainfield City Hall for a press conference to protest the arrests. Again the cops showed up and told the peacefully assembled group that they were ‘hostile,’ that they needed a permit, and that they were, “going about this the wrong way.” No one left, however, and this time the cops did not act on their threats.

People’s Organization for Progress chairman Lawrence Hamm spoke and denounced the erosion of constitutional rights under the Bush administration. He mentioned the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act among other repressive measures passed by Congress. He stated three demands: All charges against the Plainfield Four must be dropped; the incident must be investigated from the time of the arrests until the release of the four; and any municipal ordinances in violation of constitutional rights must be repealed.

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