How Can the Police Police the Police

Lawrence Hamm holding Bilal Colbert Sign

People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Lawrence Hamm calls for justice for Bilal Colbert. Community leaders and organizations in Newark have been involved in attempts to curtail police misconduct by demanding a civilian review board to address police misconduct.

Branch Brook Park: Warning Sign

Branch Brook Park in Newark was the primary location for the Essex County Sheriff's Office to patrol for gay sexual activity. As this photo represents, taken in November 2016, the presence of police surveillance continues in Branch Brook Park

Continuing the protests of the 1970s and including longtime activists like Amiri Baraka and his son, now-Mayor Ras Baraka, community activists in the 1990s and the 2000s reinvigorated calls for the creation of a civilian review board over the police after stories such as Colbert and Gaymon’s came to light.

 Because Gaymon’s death was due to police targeting homosexuality, Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, became involved. As a result of their efforts, along with other organizations, the gay sex sting squad was disbanded and the Gaymon family was awarded $1.5 million in a civil case three years later.

 The community’s response to Bilal Colbert’s death began on May 3 with a vigil hosted by the NAACP. Two days later in conjunction with the People’s Organization for Progress, a demonstration was staged throughout Newark and Irvington demanding intervention from the federal government. New Jersey’s senators listened, and petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate, which it did in 2011.

In 2014, the Department of Justice released its report, calling for a number of reforms to “make Newark a more equitable community...and also a safer one.” The investigation provided a blueprint for change. Two years later, the Newark city council responded by creating a Civilian Complaint Review Board. These may be the first steps towards establishing a better relationship between the police and citizens in Newark.

"A police review board does not mean we are antipolice; it means we are antipolice brutality.”

– Larry Hamm