Outside the War Memorial Building in Trenton on September 30, 2015, roughly 25 demonstrators stood in a light drizzle of rain to speak out against the recent police shooting of then-14-year old Radazz Hearns in Trenton. The small rally was orchestrated by the United Mercer Interfaith Organization (UMIO) – an interfaith alliance of faith-based organizations working in the Trenton and Mercer County area to seek justice for minorities and build community relations – along with other endorsing organizations such as Decarcerate the Garden State. Speakers included Radazz’s mother Slimes Jackson, ex-police officer Richard Rivera, UMIO co-chair Rev. Lukata Mjumbe and other clergy members.
There were 3 stated goals for the rally: dismissing the charges against Radazz due to violations of his due process and fail trial, the immediate prosecution of those responsible of criminally leaking Radazz’s juvenile records, and the creation of an independent review board in NJ based on the Newark model to “check the multi-agency attacks on local communities.” On August 18, Radazz was charged with “aggravated assault” on a police officer and several weapon offenses. Activists claimed it smelled fishy that police reported finding a handgun in the street belonging to Radazz, but only 12 hours after the incident took place. Moreover, the state Attorney General’s Office initially said Hearns had reached for his waistband, before changing their statement to saying he had a gun pointed to the anonymous officers.The New Brunswick Today wrote: “Hearns survived the seven gunshots on August 7, but has been the target of a smear campaign ever since. Despite being a juvenile, his criminal records were subsequently leaked from an anonymous law enforcement officer to The Trentonian.” (This leak is currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s office) In addition to calling for a civilian review board, activists demanded that the shooting investigation be taken over by by federal investigators including U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, whose office in Newark was picketed by the same activists on September 9. (New Brunswick Today wrote: “Presently, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, led by Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, led by Acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri, are handling the matter.” Hoffman headed the panel inside, without the presence of Radazz’s family and supporters.)
While the rally began outside the War Memorial at 8:30 A.M., a Community Policing Summit was hosted inside the building by the Department of Justice and State Attorney General Hoffman, which discussed the police shooting of Radazz. The panel was open to community members who pre-registered for the event, which was titled “Building Trust: Police/Community Relationships.” Indeed, the War Memorial was built in 1932 to act as “a great community center,” according to the NJ Department of State website, and was meant to combine “beauty, dignity, and civic utility.” But this hardly describes the complicated mess that occurred when demonstrators attempted to enter the panel discussion room. Rev. Mjumbe said the summit “failed in the first 30 minutes” of its stated goal to “Building Trust” between police and the community.
Nearly two dozen demonstrators were removed from the panel discussions prior to 9:00 A.M. They were told by officials and police that they were unable to enter because they had not pre-registered for the summit online. According to the Trentonian, the summit was close to full-capacity with over several hundred attendees. Nevertheless, some demonstrators felt insulted they were excluded from a discussion for which they were passionate about, including local clergy members who are current leaders in the community against injustice (Ewing Presbyterian Church member Donald Lovett, an elderly white man, was one of many people ejected). Moreover, speaker after speaker repeatedly expressed rage over the fact that Slimes Jackson, the mother of Radazz Hearns, wasn’t invited into the meeting! “She should be sitting in the front row,” clergy members said, while others insisted she should have been leading the panel “on stage.” “The issue is not about pre-registration,” Rev. Mjumbe of UMIO said. “That’s only an issue because it’s us. We are the ones who are holding these people accountable (for the Hearns shooting). That’s the reason we are having this issue right now. If they knew that they had reached capacity, they should have moved the event from that back room to the larger auditorium that holds 600 people.” Vanita Gupta, an acting assistant attorney general with the federal Department of Justice, at least did a fantastic job relaying the issues, after she told the panel audience that these tragic incidents are a nationwide occurrence. While listening to civil rights complaints around the country, members of urban minority communities constantly state they are “tired of being viewed as criminals first and human beings second.” “Many of them see the police as preying on them rather than protecting them,” Gupta said. “And they complain the police don’t value their rights and, indeed, their lives.”
Although the summit didn’t relocate, the state police did allow demonstrators to fill out an application on-site, so as to allow them to conduct a rally outside the War Memorial until 10:00 A.M. Ex-police officer and civil rights activist Richard Rivera spoke at the rally before entering the meeting, having previously registered for the summit to speak out against the unjust shooting. Rivera felt obligated to speak at the rally before entering the meeting, claiming that “building trust” between police and communities couldn’t succeed if community members were ejected from such panels. He said the recent reforms are “a step in the right direction,” but claimed the process remains secretive. “What we’re not taking away from these incidents is how to prevent them in the future,” Rivera said after the summit. “We don’t know what the record is because we have no insight.” Rivera, who has frequently sued departments seeking use of force records, said citizens “shouldn’t have to rely on a civil process for police accountability.”
Slimes Jackson, with tears rolling down her face, requested that the officer who shot her son be prosecuted, in addition to demanding that those who leaked her son’s juvenile records be punished. “If we don’t fight and we let this go, there’s no telling what these cops will do to individuals,” she stated. “We are going to get justice. We have to.” Keep up the fight she said, “not just for my son, but for the matter of the situation. This is not just for Radezz. This is for Trenton, this is for the community, this is for the youth, this is for everyone, this is for all of us.”
-(“Radazz Hearns rally planned for same day as police summit,” The Trentonian, Sept. 29, 2015) http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20150928/radazz-hearns-rally-planned-for-same-day-as-police-summit
-(Keith Brown, “Supporters: Drop charges against teen shot by police in Trenton,” NJ.com, Sept 30, 2015) http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2015/09/supporters_drop_charges_against_teen_shot_by_polic.html
-(S.P. Sullivan, “State, federal officials defend police shooting investigations at summit,” NJ.com, Sept. 30, 2015) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2015/09/nj_community_policing_summit.html
-(Penny Ray, “Protesters denied access to Community Policing Summit at War Memorial in Trenton,” The Trentonian, Sept, 30, 2015.) http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20150930/protesters-denied-access-to-community-policing-summit-at-war-memorial-in-trenton
-(Molly O’Brien, “State and Federal Authorities Sponsor Discussion After Police Shooting in Trenton,” New Brunswick Today, Sept. 29, 2015) http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/wednesday-state-and-federal-authorities-sponsor-discussion-after-police-shooting-trenton