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These 5 bills should help reform policing in New Jersey | Opinion

Senator Shirley Turner | June 28, 2020 | Star-Ledger |


I stand with the peaceful protesters in New Jersey and around the country and the world who are demanding equality and justice for our Black community. Violence and destruction are not the answer from either side – the public or the police.

The protests we have seen over the last three weeks are about much more than police brutality and excessive force. The uprising we are seeing around the nation stems from 400 years of oppression, not only at the hands of police but across every aspect of our society, from education to employment, housing to healthcare, criminal sentencing to economic status. We are not only protesting for equal treatment by law enforcement but for equal treatment under the law and in all of the spaces we occupy.

I have never seen such a diverse group of protesters, across age, race and religion and I am hopeful that these weeks of protest will result in long-lasting, meaningful change across the country. It is particularly powerful to see protests held in all of the 50 states and in countries as far-reaching as South Korea and Australia. This is what positive change looks like, and I am encouraged by the fact that the protests are continuing to grow and diversify.

It is abundantly clear that there is a great need to reform policing tactics, recruitment, and training, and to increase accountability and transparency for bad actors, which is why I have sponsored a number of bills to do just that. Change must be pursued at every level of government, and I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure we do all that we can at the state level.

I know that the vast majority of law enforcement officers are professional and dedicated and want to root out cops who abuse their power and do not deserve to wear the uniform and badge. I have sponsored, along with Senator Weinberg, a bill that would ensure that those who have tarnished the profession are not being shuffled around to different law enforcement agencies after serious conduct violations. Under our bill, S-1482, before accepting an applicant, law enforcement agencies would be required to review internal affairs and personnel files from any law enforcement agencies that previously employed the officer.

I have recently introduced S-2562, to prohibit the use of a chokehold by law enforcement unless the life of the officer or another person is in danger. I also sponsored S-1163, to require all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras so if something does go wrong we have camera footage of the incident to hold the police officer and the public accountable.

To help address implicit biases, I have introduced S-401 to increase minority recruitment as well as S-419 to implement cultural diversity training for all law enforcement officers. Our law enforcement agencies should reflect the diversity of our communities that they have sworn to serve and protect and every officer should be properly trained to interact with people from all backgrounds.

We should not be encouraging officers to make petty arrests or issue tickets when it’s not necessary. To ensure we are not incentivizing arrests and citations I have sponsored S-1322, to prohibit law enforcement agencies from using quotas when evaluating police officers’ professional performance and determining promotions.

Last session, I sponsored legislation with Senate President Steve Sweeney to prevent bias in prosecution and to help ensure that rogue cops are held accountable. Under the law, when someone is killed by law enforcement, rather than leave the investigation under local jurisdiction where they will be protected by the blue wall of silence, the Attorney General’s Office is now responsible to investigate and prosecute the case.

My heart breaks for the families of Maurice Gordon, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and so many others. Words cannot express the pain and frustration that comes with each senseless murder motivated by institutional and systemic racism. Fifty-three years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that in the “unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.” For these victims, we have reached that point; however, their deaths should not be in vain. We must take action now.

The protestors who recognize the inequality and injustice that has plagued this nation for far too long will no longer sit in the comfort of their homes and wait for change to come. They are out in the streets, demanding it now. This is not a moment in time, but it is a movement that will restore our faith and hope that the conditions and treatment of minorities, the poor, and the marginalized will no longer be ignored, nor accepted. My hope is that the protesters will now take their passion and energy from the streets to the polls to bring about real change.


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