Commissions Battle Over Reform

Photo of Louise Epperson

When she testified before the Lilley Commission, community activist Louise Epperson focused on the actions of law enforcement, “The police department and the State troopers and all this militia shooting people down unwarranted. It was worse than the Boston Massacre.” 

Commission Report

During a three day period, over 13,000 rounds were dispersed by state militia resulting in the death of twenty-three black citizens. A total of twenty-six people lost their lives, eight of those by indiscriminate police fire, as this excerpt from the Lilley Commission report shows.

Between July 28, 1967 and May 1968, three commissions investigated the causes of the Newark Rebellion and offered recommendations. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission’s, report concluded, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Racial integration and federal investment in cities was needed to prevent future riots.

Ten of thirteen findings in New Jersey’s Lilley Commission Report called for reforming law enforcement. It recommended Mayor Addonizio name a “five-man Board of Police Commissioners, made up of outstanding citizens representing the total Newark community…to receive and review all citizen complaints of police misconduct, or a civilian review board.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the state Police Benevolent Association’s report disagreed with the Lilley Commission. They were “appalled and shocked” at the state commission’s findings and asserted that the “accusations and allegations made are without any proof, unsubstantiated, and Un-American.” The Fraternal Order of Police threatened a lawsuit if Newark created a civilian review board.

Mayor Addonizio was pulled between his black supporters who wanted police reform, white constituents who opposed it, and the police. He refused the recommendation to create a civilian review board.

 

“I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission – it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland – with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”

- Kenneth Clark, testimony before the Kerner Commission