In the wake of the death of George Floyd, the use of chokeholds during the police apprehension of an individual has come under wide criticism in many states across the nation.
The full Assembly approved several measures aimed at social justice reform in New Jersey. Among the bills, a measure (A-4263) that would clarify that any law enforcement officer who knowingly chokes another person is engaging in use of deadly force. It passed the full Assembly 72-1-5.
Assembly members Shavonda Sumter, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Benjie Wimberly and Jamel Holley are prime sponsors of the legislation.
“The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis through a lethal knee involved chokehold and deaths of men and women in law enforcement custody has caused states to reassess policies surrounding use of police force,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “New Jersey law enforcement does not train for the use of chokeholds in the police academy. However, it is a tactical move that may be used to secure an individual. With this legislation, we define these holds in New Jersey as use of deadly force.”
“With this legislation, New Jersey takes a stand against the use of excessive police force,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “We have seen what can happen countless times with countless lives lost over the years. This is the step we must take to ensure it does not happen here in New Jersey.”
The legislation amends N.J.S.2C:3-11 to clarify that the use of a chokehold by a law enforcement officer constitutes deadly force.
“The deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd have placed a spotlight on police use of force as well as the many others who have lost their lives as a result of these practices,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The designation of a chokehold as a deadly force is necessary to discourage the use of choking as a way to subdue a person. Our law enforcement is trained in many other ways to deescalate a situation without using this one.”
“We’re calling for change in the way African Americans and others are treated in this country during police interactions,” said Holley (D-Union). “Far too many instances have occurred and far too many lives have been lost due to the misuse of excessive force in policing. There is a problem with the use of the chokehold as a tactic that must be addressed.”
Under the bill, a law enforcement officer uses deadly force if he knowingly places pressure on the throat, windpipe, or carotid artery of another person, thereby hindering or preventing the ability to breath, or interfering with the flow of blood from the heart to the brain.
Current law provides that use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer is only justified if necessary to protect the officer or another person from death or serious bodily injury, to arrest or prevent the escape of a violent criminal, or to prevent the commission of a violent crime. The bill provides that a law enforcement officer is not justified in choking another person unless confronted with one of these dangerous situations.
To ensure law enforcement agencies are best equipped when hiring officers, the full Assembly voted 78-0-0 on Thursday clearing legislation from Assemblymen Gordon Johnson and Jamel Holley.
Under the bill (A-744), law enforcement agencies would be required to disclose entire internal affairs and personnel files of law enforcement officers who are prospective candidates for employment with another agency.
The legislation would codify specific revisions made to Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures by the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive No. 2019-5, which require police departments to facilitate the sharing of disciplinary history on candidates. Changes made under this Directive took effect in April.
Sponsors of the bill released the following statements:
Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen):“Operating with minimal information does more harm than good when it comes to hiring an officer charged to serve and protect. With this legislation, we intend to give departments and jurisdictions all the information they need to determine if an applicant is the right fit. For us to reform police culture, we must ensure agencies are first aware of any disciplinary history.”
Assemblyman Jamel C.Holley (D-Union):“There needs to be more accountability. If an officer faces disciplinary action within one agency in one town and can easily move on to another agency in a different town without their record following them, we have an accountability problem. Making sure agencies aren’t kept in the dark about the background of candidates – good or bad – is what this legislation does. This is critical in our efforts to rebuild trust in law enforcement.”
The bill would also deem any future contract provision prohibiting a law enforcement agency from providing files, including internal affairs and personnel files, to another agency as unenforceable and against public policy.
Moving to create more equitable laws on the possession and personal use cannabis and establish expedited and virtual expungements, the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members Benjie Wimberly, Annette Quijano, Jamel Holley, Britnee Timberlake and Angela McKnight on Monday.
“This is only one piece of the many parts of change that must be done in the name of social justice for our communities. The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of people and affecting families irreparably for decades,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The action we take now to help our black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by current laws surrounding cannabis use is critical to trauma for future generations.”
“There have been far too many people, especially those from Black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” said Quijano (D-Union). “There have been long term impacts on the lives of all people in this state, but considerably those of color. This legislation is the product of taking a hard look at our current laws, listening to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and taking a common-sense approach to cannabis offenses.”
The bill (A-1897/4279) provides for certain criminal and civil justice reforms, particularly with respect to legal consequences associated with certain cannabis offenses as well as broadening awareness of available expungement relief.
“Black New Jerseyans are up to four times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than White people. It is a sad fact, a further painful reminder that so people in our communities have been disenfranchised for far too long,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union). “There have always been glaring social justice concerns and obvious inequity in the high number of arrests of minority residents. Now, finally, is the time for it to stop.”
New Jersey law enforcement officers made over 24,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, more than in the previous 20 years – approximately one every 22 minutes. African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis passion than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates with white counterparts. Cannabis possession arrests also constituted three out of five drug arrests in 2012.
The state spends approximately $127 million per year on cannabis possession enforcement costs.
“It’s time for the change we seek,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “New Jersey residents are not happy with the status quo and we need to move in a direction of compassion for the communities that have long been targeted by current regulatory criteria. The call for action, for social justice reform, is resounding throughout our nation. And it begins with legislation such as this.”
“Decriminalization and expungement for those who have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana offenses is well overdue in New Jersey and many other states throughout this nation,” said Timberlake (D-Essex). “A criminal marijuana charge has a detrimental effect on an individual’s opportunity to access higher education, obtain gainful employment, receive housing support, and address child custody issues. Not all communities are impacted equally by marijuana enforcement, measures to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal records are ones of racial, social, and economic justice. This legislation is about social justice for a people who have endured the inequities in the law for generations.”
The bill would regrade the unlawful distribution of, or possessing or having under control with intent to distribute, less than five pounds of marijuana or less than one pound of hashish.
Under current law, distribution of less than five pounds, but at least one ounce or more, of marijuana, or distribution of less than one pound, but at least five grams or more, of hashish, is punishable as a crime of the third degree; this crime can be punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. Distribution of any smaller amounts, that is, less than one ounce of marijuana or less than five grams of hashish, is punishable as a crime of the fourth degree; this crime can be punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Assemblyman Jamel Holley is expressing concern about 5G safety.Credits: Office of Assemblyman Jamel Holley
TRENTON - Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20thDist.) is calling for the creation of a state commission to study the many unknown health effects of the next generation of wireless technologies, which are steadily expanding throughout New Jersey.
The wireless industry is engaged in the large scale deployment of 5G microwave antennas to dramatically enhance the nation’s broadband infrastructure. Such technology is welcomed, as it eliminates rural internet disparities, enables new forms of automation, and promotes advancements in telemedicine.
However, there are deep concerns about potential health effects within New Jersey communities, Assemblyman Holley said. 5G technology uses existing technology and new applications of microwave radiation to transmit large amounts of data. It requires closer proximity to network users, resulting in dense deployment of antennas near schools, residences, and businesses throughout New Jersey.
“My constituents have expressed some deep concerns about the potential health impacts of these antennas, especially in high-density communities like Elizabeth and Union Township,” Assemblyman Holley said. “We need to analyze the involuntary exposure of citizens to 5G technology, especially without their express knowledge or consent of the potential health impacts.”
Assemblyman Holley noted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not yet conducted long-term testing of 5G technology, and has not updated its wireless radiation human exposure guidelines since 1996.
“Wireless industry leaders have admitted that safety tests have not yet been conducted to determine any possible adverse health effects from the constant exposure to higher frequency wireless radiation,” the assemblyman said. “Meanwhile, there’s a significant body of published, peer-reviewed, independent scientific studies that link exposure to wireless radiation with serious biological harm and increased risk of cancer, reproductive problems, and neurological impairments.”
Assemblyman Holley said the mounting research casts doubt on the theory that low-level exposure to radio-frequency microwave radiation is harmless. There are more than 250 medical and public health professionals who have signed a joint statement urging government officials to consider the latest science on microwave radiation and human health, especially the latest science concerning abnormal brain development in unborn children, Holley said.
“I am not taking a position on 5G until I have more information,” the assemblyman said. “My concern is the overall body of evidence concerning the potential health impacts of wireless radio wave radiation. It is inconclusive and lacking in high-quality research. We need further study and consideration to help shape appropriate regulatory policies that best protect New Jerseyans.”
Assemblyman Holley is calling for the “New Jersey Commission on 5G Health Effects,” which would study the environmental and health effects of 5G wireless technologies, with a focus on the potential health risks that these technologies pose to vulnerable populations.
The assemblyman suggests the commission comprise 11 members. That includes two members of the General Assembly, two members of the State Senate, one member of the cellphone and wireless technology industry, one member representing the business community, one member of the public with expertise in the biological effects of wireless radiation, the Attorney General (or his appointee), the Commissioner of Health (or her designee), one member of the State Medical Society, and one member representing Rutgers University who is knowledgeable about wireless radiation.
Bill to Institute Minority Recruitment, Establish Annual Reporting
To ensure law enforcement agencies in New Jersey reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee cleared a measure Monday to require all law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to establish minority recruitment and selection programs.
The bill (A-2394) would further require annual reporting on recruitment, retention and promotion of officers providing information specific to age, gender, race and ethnicity. This information would be published in a yearly report and made available online by the Attorney General.
Sponsors of the bill, Assembly Democrats Benjie E. Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic), Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen) and Jamel C. Holley (D-Union), issued the following joint statement:
“The Black community in America is in pain and reeling in the wake of senseless police-perpetrated violence. A breakdown of trust between communities of color and police in America is evident.
“We must start with being intentional about the way our law enforcement agencies mirror the evolving racial diversity of the communities they protect and serve. Being more deliberate in hiring minorities will make our police departments more inclusive and ultimately translate into better relationships with communities.
“It all comes down to breaking cycles of bias. In building the mechanisms to tackle underrepresentation and keep agencies accountable to greater diversity, we have an opportunity to do just that.”
The 46-year-old Floyd’s s final words— “I can’t breath”— were the same as her own son, Eric Garner, who died after being wrestled to the ground in a chokehold by a white New York police officer in 2014, on suspicion of selling cigarettes. A grand jury voted to not indict the officer, inspiring protests in major cities across the country.
“It’s like deja vu all over again. But it’s something that’s necessary. The marches are to bring awareness, and once we bring awareness, now we have to see people stay on the forefront. We have to make America pay attention to us,” Carr said before giving a speech at a protest against police brutality in Roselle.
“I’m here today to commemorate all the stolen lives. There are so many stolen lives we don’t even know," she said.
Pressure on leaders for police reform must continue, Carr told a crowd of hundreds gathered at Warinanco Park. And she’s no stranger to fighting for change.
After her son’s death, Carr began advocating for the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act" to make it a felony in New York for an officer to engage in a chokehold - except in situations where they are protecting their own life. Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly signed the bill into law on Friday.
“It’s a step in the right direction. That’s why I stay active. That’s why I stay on top of what’s going on... A lot of the time, change comes slow,” said Carr, whose son is buried nearby in a Linden cemetery.
She now wants to see the same action in other states and on the federal level.
In New Jersey, Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) said he and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) are both sponsoring a series of bills being introduced in the coming weeks in the state legislature, including an anti-chokehold act similar to New York’s.
“In order for us to start breaking away at these barriers, legislative action is going to have to take place,” Holley said.
“I’m pleased to see (New Jersey is) following New York’s lead,” Carr said.
Protesters carrying signs gathered at a field in the park Sunday, listening to a line-up of speakers for about an hour before honoring those killed by officers. Organizers read aloud the names of dozens of police brutality victims, and released a black balloon for each name.
One protester, Yusuf Boriqua, of Elizabeth, stood alongside others holding a sign reading “End racist policing" and wearing a mask with the words “I can’t breathe."
The 44-year-old said he moved to New Jersey about 26 years ago, and has faced racial profiling from police since he was younger and while growing up in the Bronx. He pointed to a scar on his eyelid, which he said is from being pistol-whipped by a police officer at 12-years-old.
“You become desensitized to it," he said. “You can’t escape it anywhere you go... When you walk down the street and a police car rides past you, you can’t look them in the eye because that gives them a reason to stop you. So you’re walking nervous. All you can do is keep walking and hope they don’t bother you.”
Carr said people shouldn’t become discouraged if change isn’t immediate.
None of the responding officers involved in Garner’s death were charged, and a grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed putting Garner in a chokehold. Pantaleo was fired from the department, but Carr is still calling on the other responding officers to be disciplined too.
“We have to stay on the battlefield," she said. "I’m still fighting for our grandchildren, I’m still fighting for the unborn, because they cannot keep killing our children. It does seem like deja vu, but we have to do this as many times as necessary.”
Jamel Holley is a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 20th Legislative District. He’s been an outspoken leader for his constituents since his term started in 2015. Although we don’t agree on every issue, Jamel is a thoughtful, smart and effective voice who can look at issues beyond partisan politics and cut to the core issue of how something is impacting people.
He was a champion as Newark struggled through the lead water crisis and now he’s got your back again fighting for transparency as the government pushes for contact-tracing. Jamel stands with us on pushing back against this infringement on privacy and liberty. He’s unafraid to oppose the leaders in his own party when it comes to standing up for his constituents. He understands that New Jersey has to get back to normal business and the idea of essentially untrained college kids using personal laptops to probe into your personal and medical history is unsettling at best.
Very few members of our legislature have the courage to shout from the rooftops when something is clearly misguided and potentially more harmful than the virus it allegedly is designed to fight. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by an approximately two to one, it’s important that Democrats start evaluating the leaders who are not acting in the best interest of the public. Where are the primary challenges to the bosses? From my perspective, it looks like Jamel Holley may be in a strong position to challenge Murphy in the Democratic primary in 2021.
He took on the incumbent Mayor in Roselle in the Democratic primary and despite being opposed by the ‘machine’, he won in June 2011. He went on to run unopposed and served as the youngest elected Mayor in the town’s history. Can he do it again, this time on a bigger stage? Time will tell. If you’re asking me I say, go get ‘em Jamel.
Assemblyman Holley Calls for Public Hearings About “Contact Tracing”
New Jersey Lawmaker Expresses Concern Regarding Personal Information Accessed by Corporations and Government; Calls for State Legislatures Across Country to Hold Hearings, As Well
TRENTON – May 11, 2020 – As state and federal leaders plan for the slow, steady reopening of New Jersey, “contact tracing” is a strategy that will likely be used to limit the spread of COVID-19.
But how would “contact tracing” be used and how does it affect personal privacy?
Those are questions from Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20th Dist.), vice chair of the Assembly Homeland Security and Domestic Preparedness Committee and member of the Assembly Health Committee, who is calling for in-person public hearings on the topic as soon as New Jersey lifts the ban on public gatherings.
“Contact tracing takes us to an entirely new level of invasiveness, in which we no longer have any control of who has information about us and what that information is being used for,” Holley said.
The problem is that such little information is known, as thousands of contact tracers would fan across the state, mapping the exposure risk between infected individuals and those who come in contact. Holley is concerns about a potential over reach; tracking people’s whereabouts could produce data ripe with potential abuse.
In many cases, contact tracing hinges on mobile applications, which require data from GPS or Bluetooth tracking, following a person’s movement and who they interact with. According to published reports, Apple and Google have paired up to provide software to public health authorities that they claim is sensitive to user privacy and can help automate the notification of people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
That software relies on Bluetooth, in which public health authorities can make applications that exchange anonymous identifiers between users when they’re a few feet apart from one another. If one user is diagnosed with the virus and inputs it into the app, the other user’s phone will be notified that they came into contact with someone who tested positive. The public health authority that operates the app can then offer more guidance.
Holley said he appreciates any efforts to maintain privacy, but questioned what happens when different states use different applications. Moreover, once companies begin this nationwide roll-out, will they ever stop collecting this data?
“My concern is invasive surveillance,” Holley said. “When will it end? Before New Jerseyans and others across the country agree to an initiative that involves the release of their personal information, they need to know what they will be sacrificing. That is why I am calling for these public hearings. We are desperate for more information.”