EDISON – When he marched from Montclair to Newark against police brutality in 1999 after the killing of Earl Faison, Larry Hamm didn’t think in the years ahead he would have to elongate the march for justice.
He had hoped he could shorten it, in fact.
It didn’t work out that way.
But if the old “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of injustice sentiment applies to lifelong activist Hamm, it doesn’t show when you meet him in the middle of an historic march from Montclair to Trenton as he crusades against police brutality.
On the contrary.
The founder and director of the People’s Organization for Progress looks as energized, robust and committed as ever, as if the former cross country track star – no matter the contest – will always have the edge in stamina.
It rained on Sunday.
He shrugged it off.
“But it makes the story great – the fact that we marched in the rain and didn’t quit,” said Hamm.
Since the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, he stepped up organization efforts to get the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Phil Murphy to champion a bill to enable N.J. municipalities to create civilian complaint review boards with full subpoena power. He punctuated his drive for the legislation this month with an ongoing week-long march on foot (eight to 12 miles each day) from his home town in Essex County to the State Capitol.
InsiderNJ caught up with the activist this afternoon on the largest portion of the march route, which proceeds along Route 27 South and Route 206 South.
He was at that moment on his way toward Woodbridge, the hometown of Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19), who entertained the bill earlier this year before deciding against posting it in the Assembly.
“Please post the bill,” Hamm said, in a message to the speaker. “We are walking from Montclair to Trenton to highlight the issue of police brutality and to demand the NJ Legislature pass legislation to hold police accountable.
“First and foremost we demand passage of A4656/S2963, the police review boards with subpoena power bill,” added the progressive 2020 candidate for the United States Senate.
Sponsored by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) of Jersey City, and initially released by committee, “it remains for the speaker and senate president to post it and the legislature to vote on it and pass it. This is something we’ve been demanding for over 60 years, ever since New York City created a police review board.”
Police organizations don’t want the legislature to pass the bill.
“It’s not an accident that we don’t have civilian review boards,” said Hamm. “Police organizations pressure legislatures to keep them from creating them. I don’t understand what the problem is. The world didn’t end in New York City when they created a police review board. The sky didn’t fall. New York Police have some of the best contracts. They simply don’t want people to have authority over the police.”
Police in the United States kill 1,000 people per year, a disproportionate number of whom are Black men. China has the largest number of police in the world, second only to the United States, but they have 1.4 billion people, compared to 333.4 million in the U.S., Hamm points out. Such a massive organization needs civilian oversight, he said.
“We have the epidemic of COVID-19, and we also have the epidemic of police brutality,” he noted, waving to approving drivers of cars heading in the other direction on Route 27. “After George Floyd, all our elected officials said what happened was terrible but since then very little has been done concrete so that we don’t have future George Floyds.”
Hamm said he’s marching to meet the countervailing pressure from police organizations.
He suspects the leadership in the legislature believes that if they “hold something back long enough, community interest support will wane.
“That’s why we’re out marching, he added. “So it doesn’t wane.”
The march has been endorsed by Newark Communities For Accountable Policing, Black Lives Matter of NJ, Black Lives Matter Paterson, Atlantic City Chapter of the National Action Network, Trenton Anti-Violence Coalition, Our Revolution of Trenton- Mercer County, New Jersey Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, Salvation and Social Justice, Latino Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU NJ), Showing Up For Racial Justice New Jersey (SURJ -NJ), Northern New Jersey Jewish Voice For Peace, New Jersey Peace Action, Equal Rights and Justice Radio Show (on WBAI Radio 99.5FM), New Brunswick Area Branch NAACP, Block the Boat NY/NJ, Montclair Citizen For Equality and Fair Policing, Irvington Branch NAACP, December 12th Movement, the Ironbound Community Corporation, the Palestinian American Community Center, the Phillip Pannell Foundation, Newark Branch NAACP, Our Revolution New Jersey, and Black Community Watchline.
A backer of the bill, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) said he believes legislative leadership will move on the civilian complaint review board legislation after the Nov. 2nd elections.
“I think so,” he told InsiderNJ on Monday. “It will be a priority in the next session. Everyone is focused on campaign season right now. But if we are going to call ourselves progressives we have to be progressive.”
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