Hundreds protest in New Jersey to highlight US police brutality

© Eduardo Munoz
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Newark, New Jersey, to protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Many carried signs bearing slogans such as: “Stop Racist Violence,” and “Black Lives Matter.”

A crowd of demonstrators demanded justice after a black activist, Sandra Bland, was found hanged in a Texas jail cell just three days after her detention for a minor traffic violation.

© Eduardo Munoz

“There is a burgeoning police state in the United States,” Larry Hamm, a social justice activist and People’s Organization for Progress Chairman told protesters on Saturday, according to PolitickerNJ. “Stop killing us! Stop killing us! Stop killing us!

He added: “We want an end to police violation of Constitutional rights. We want an end to police murder and torture and terror. We are not going to be paralyzed with fear. We are going to fight back every day of our lives. …This is not just a depression. It’s a criminal act of economic oppression.”

Hundreds of family members and friends, as well as politicians, attended the funeral of Sandra Bland in Illinois on Saturday. The 28-year-old woman was found dead in a cell at Waller County Jail in Hempstead on 13 July. Three days prior to the tragedy, she was detained for allegedly assaulting a state trooper during a traffic stop.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, who attended her funeral, acknowledged that Ms Bland was stopped for a “highly questionable traffic violation” – namely not signaling while changing lanes. The woman was on the way to Texas to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. A police dashboard video of her confrontation with the trooper showed Brian T. Encinia pointing a stun gun at Bland, threating to drag her out of the car. A video from the arrest, shot by a bystander, showed the officer forcing the woman to the ground as they argued.

Bland’s death has sparked outrage on Twitter, her name mentioned alongside other police brutality victims, including Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old killed last year in Ferguson, and Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who fell into a coma and died after being arrested by Baltimore police in April. In the wake of protests over Gray, whose death from injuries sustained in police custody provoked unrest in several US cities, Baltimore has pledged to install cameras in police vans for a “more complete record of what occurs there.”

A nationwide debate over the use of police force has been going nonstop since last summer, when Michael Brown was killed on August 9.

According to a new Justice Department report, police officers in the US have stepped up their use of defensive tactics and equipment, with the number of departments authorizing the use of stun guns and Tasers having increased dramatically in the last decade. The report surveyed local departments and found that those sanctioning the use of these weapons rose more than 10 times between 2000 and 2013, up from 7 percent to 81 percent – or up from 60 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2013.

Additionally, the report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that officers are increasingly employing video cameras, conducting surveillance and wearing protective body armor while on patrol. Researchers found that nearly nine in 10 local police departments allowed officers to use pepper spray and batons. A majority of departments authorized the use of defensive physical tactics, including open hand (91 percent), takedown (89 percent) closed-hand (85 percent) techniques, while four in 10 departments allowed neck-restraint tactics when grappling with suspects.

A shocking video released earlier this month showed a Colorado Springs police officer going to extremes during a November 2013 arrest. Tyler Walker, 29 at the time, slammed a handcuffed 18-year-old woman facedown into the ground, knocking out her teeth. Alexis Acker reportedly suffered "trauma to the face, head, teeth and jaw; migraine headaches, concussion, closed head injuries, memory and cognitive function problems, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder." Acker's criminal attorney Cindy Hyatt said the woman's injuries would be permanent. 


Another dramatic video was released in mid-July after months of legal battles. It showed California police officers fatally shooting an unarmed man in the Los Angeles suburbs after mistaking him and two others for robbery suspects. The City of Gardena paid out $4.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit with the family of the deceased and his brother, who was injured during confrontation with police. Local authorities had been struggling to keep the video private.

The incident happened on June 2, 2013, when police investigating a bicycle theft stopped Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino. The 34-year-old was trying to help his brother find his stolen bike when he was rounded up as a suspect instead. Witnesses said Zeferino attempted to tell officers that two other bicycle-riding friends they had stopped were the wrong men. The newly released video showed “the cold-blooded shooting of clearly unarmed men,” an attorney for some of the men, R. Samuel Paz, told the LA Times.