The death of Najee Seabrooks is a tragedy, no two ways about it.
The body camera videos from the Paterson Police Department show the last moments of his life, hours after police and other emergency services tried to coax Seabrooks out of the bathroom of his apartment.
Everyone agrees on the facts of the situation: Family members of Seabrooks called police to help with Najee, an anti violence activist in Paterson, who was hallucinating and behaving erratically. He barricaded himself in the bathroom and had two knives on him.
He exited the bathroom and then was shot—but there is no clear picture of Seabrooks leaving the bathroom that show him lunging at police as shots are being fired. He was pronounced dead a half hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Seabrook’s family, co-workers at the Paterson Healing Collective and friends are upset that mental health experts were not called in to talk to Seabrooks to end the standoff peacefully. Police argue that their officers were trained for these situations and could not guarantee the safety of an outsider.
We will be honest—our opinion about the Paterson Police Department actions on that day is more muted after watching the videos. You see in real time the split second decision an officer has to make as well as their work for a peaceful ending, getting Seabrooks the mental health help he needed.
But the death of Seabrooks does raise the issue of the city’s police department and the community it is supposed to serve. The death of Najee is a tipping point to us and the calls for federal intervention. We support those calls, sooner rather than later
Simply put, the two weeks from the shooting to the release of the body cam video brought to the forefront a range of issues that show a trust that is so broken an outside monitor is needed.
From residents who packed a city council meeting last week to local activists who are speaking up, the issue with Paterson and its police department can no longer be ignored. While we are sympathetic to the officers, mental health professionals from St. Joes should have been called in.
The death of Seabrooks is just the latest headline that cast the Paterson police in a less than flattering light:
- Six officers either pleading or being found guilty for robbing and beating people they illegally stopped in Paterson, crimes they tried to cover up with false police reports;
- Numerous allegations of Paterson officers physically abusing suspects;
- The shooting of a State Trooper just feet away from Rep. Bill Pascrell home; and
- Black residents accounting for 49% of arrests and 52% of force used by police despite making up just 24.7% of the population of Paterson.
This is a failure of leadership and accountability, starting with Paterson politicians to a county prosecutor’s office that has time and time again refused to investigate police abuse to Gov. Phil Murphy, whose silence on the issue has been deafening. A function of government is to ensure the safety of its citizenry. Not only is that not happening, but those sworn to do that are making it in some ways worse.
Their is precedent for a takeover of this type in New Jersey. State lawmakers stripped Camden’s city government of most of its authority in 2002 as it flounder. And Atlantic City is still under the state’s watch, after a deal was reached by then- Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and the Democrat-controlled state Legislature in 2016.
As for federal action, the Department of Justice in July 2014 found the Newark Police Department had a a pattern of constitutional violations has eroded public confidence in the police. It echos what we see today in Paterson.
Truthfully, you would be hard pressed to convince the public to have confidence in police and city leadership to fix the fractured relationship as it now stands.
It is past time for outside forces to clean up Paterson as it appears too big of a problem to be handled by local and state politicians, who have had their chance.