Bridgeton, N.J. — A peaceful protest against police brutality outside the Cumberland County courthouse here on Feb. 28 was disrupted by an orchestrated police provocation that resulted in two people being arrested. The rally was cut short after police converged on the gathering, confronting demonstrators and pushing them out of the street, even though organizers had a permit. Demonstrators reported seeing police armed with M16s.
The demonstration, initiated by the Salem County-based civil rights group National Awareness Alliance, was held to unite families from New Jersey and Philadelphia who have been demanding justice for loved ones killed or injured by police. Starting at the intersection where police killed Jerame Reid, 36, of Bridgeton on Dec. 30, 2014, it was the fifth event demanding justice for Reid since his death.
Reid’s mother, Shelia Reid, led a half-mile march of nearly 200 protesters to the rally site. On one side of her walked Tanya Brown Dickerson, whose son Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, was killed by Philadelphia police on Dec. 15. On Reid’s other side was Regina Ashford, whose son Kashad Ashford, 23, was killed by Rutherford, N.J., police on Sept. 16. They were joined by Ikea Coney and her 17-year-old son Darrin Manning, who survived a brutal attack by a Philadelphia police officer in January 2014.
The demonstration was supported by the Newark, N.J.-based People’s Organization for Progress and the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial, Economic and Legal Justice.
Just minutes before the police attack, a jeep driven by a New Jersey state police officer, blaring out commands that the road be cleared, barreled toward protesters. When demonstrators refused to disperse, an SUV coming close behind the police car rammed into the crowd and hit a man, who responded by kicking the tire of the car. Within seconds, dozens of police vehicles descended on the demonstration and cops arrested the man who was hit, while letting the SUV speed away.
The police attack occurred within minutes after Bridgeton Mayor Albert B. Kelly had addressed the rally, and just before Shelia Reid was about to speak. Rally organizers loudly denounced the provocation designed to silence Reid and promised to continue their fight. They noted that police who were photographing the entire rally and confrontation from the roof of a nearby restaurant reportedly carried military-style weapons.
The police only pulled back after speakers called on demonstrators to record the confrontation on their cellphone video cams.
This is not the first time New Jersey police have tried to silence protesters demanding answers about Reid’s death. Earlier in February, Bridgeton police ticketed rally organizer Walter Hudson and three others for not staying on the sidewalk while protesting Reid’s murder.
Hudson called the police assault on the permitted protest “a deliberate attempt to silence Reid’s mother” and compared the experience of dealing with South Jersey to dealing with the Deep South.
He called Bridgeton, a town of 25,000 people where 25 percent are unemployed, a city “under siege and woefully oppressed.” He noted that while people want to get involved, they are afraid of retaliation. (Phillyfocus.com, March 1)
Prior to the provocation, several speakers, including Hudson, founder of the National Awareness Alliance, addressed the rally. Hudson asked, “How many kids do our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers have to cry for before we get justice?” He called for support for a Million Person March against police brutality planned for Newark on July 25.
Pam Africa of the MOVE organization recounted her organization’s long history of protests against police brutality and invited those gathered to participate in the 30th anniversary observation of the May 13, 1985, police bombing of a MOVE home in Philadelphia that killed 11 adults and children and destroyed 61 homes.
Nothing ‘routine’ about deadly traffic stops
Jerame Reid was killed within a minute of the time police pulled over the car in which he was a passenger, allegedly for failing to come to a full stop at a traffic sign. The incident was captured by a patrol car camera that showed Reid was unarmed and had his hands up when Bridgeton police officer Braheme Days repeatedly shot him as he stepped out of the passenger’s side of the car.
Just 15 days earlier, Philadelphia police had shot and killed Brandon Tate-Brown after pulling his car over for allegedly driving with his headlights off, on Dec. 15, 2014. Speaking at the rally, Tate-Brown’s mother, Tanya Brown Dickerson, noted that many fatal conflicts with police start from so-called “routine” traffic stops. She noted that surveillance video obtained by the family since her son’s murder showed that the lights of his car were on, contrary to police claims.
Police allege that Tate-Brown was headed toward the passenger side of the car — a vehicle which was provided by his employer, Hertz Rent-a-Car — to retrieve a gun they claim was visible on the car’s console. However, video footage shows several minutes of Tate-Brown struggling with and being assaulted by police before running away from his car, at which time he was shot in the back of his head.
Brown Dickerson noted that in the U.S. the role of police is to control the working class and oppressed. She challenged Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to hold police officers accountable for the crimes they commit. “They should not be considered above the law just because they are police,” she said. “They have no constitutional right to act as judge, jury and executioners.”
Philadelphia police continue to refuse to give the names of the officers involved in Tate-Brown’s killing, even though they have been returned to duty. Greg Brinkley, a private investigator hired by the family, noted that as more evidence refuting their version comes to light, police have had to adjust their “facts.”
In yet another incident, on Sept. 16, 2014, Kashad Ashford, 23, was shot nine times and killed after crashing into a police car in Rutherford, N.J. Ashford’s mother, Regina Ashford, described the killing as “execution style,” noting that her son was unconscious at the time and no threat to police.
Larry Hamm, with the People’s Organization for Progress, closed the rally with a reminder to participants of the long history in the U.S. of police attacks on peaceful protesters, including those marching for voting rights in Selma, Ala. “They were not afraid to march in Alabama 50 years ago and we are not afraid to march in New Jersey today.”