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How Newark Held Its Police Accountable

Udi Ofer

For decades the United States has embraced a harsh and punitive approach to its criminal justice policies, sending millions to prison and devastating communities across the nation, particularly low-income communities of color. Yet today, a national re-evaluation of this unjust system is taking place. It is the responsibility of civil rights leaders to ensure that this moment leads to transformational changes. 

At the ACLU of New Jersey we’re seizing this opportunity by fighting to transform every part of the state’s criminal justice system, from arrest to bail to conditions of confinement to release. We want to cut our state’s incarcerated population by 50 percent by 2020, and we have the roadmap to do it. But it all starts with building a movement.

In Newark, we’re building such a movement by focusing on one important aspect of this broken system: policing. For years, the Newark Police Department has engaged in widespread civil rights violations, and for years, the people of Newark have been calling for reforms and for independent civilian oversight of the police. Yet those calls, which began in 1965 and intensified following clashes between residents and the police in 1967, have been ignored by elected officials.

Until now.

With the help of funding from the Open Society New Executives Fund, big changes have been taking place in Newark. We launched a new coalition to reform the Newark Police Department, bringing together for the first time civil rights, labor, immigrants’ rights, and LGBT rights organizations to fight for reforms. We documented policing abuses, releasing the first-ever analysis of stop-and-frisk practices in Newark. And we won a major overhaul of the Newark Police Department’s accountability system, creating one of the nation’s strongest police civilian review boards.

The moment is ripe to create a criminal justice system that is fair and humane and uses police and incarceration only as a last resort. We’re working from the front lines to bring this vision to fruition.

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