March 20, 2023

NEWARK – In response to body camera footage released this afternoon of the killing of Najee Seabrooks by Paterson police, the following can be attributed to Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice:

“What we saw today is heartbreaking video of a distressed Black man in the middle of a mental health crisis. This was a man who was desperately seeking help – help that could not be provided while a gun was pointed at his face.

“Soothing words fall fatefully short when someone is staring down the barrel of a deadly weapon.

“Pointing a gun at someone is a sure way to escalate a situation when what was needed was the opposite: trained de-escalation techniques.

“What makes this situation so deeply tragic – and unique – is that trained non-violent intervenors from Paterson Healing Collective were actually there – onsite – willing and able to help, but prohibited from doing so by police, whose default response is a militarized one.

“Tragically ironic is that the state of New Jersey, by funding Paterson Healing Collective, acknowledges the need for non-law enforcement mental health responders. But when the moment presented itself, PHC was treated as a second-class entity instead of the most ideal solution that they were.

“This is a complete system failure.

“Having law enforcement address situations that they are ill-equipped for serves no one.

“Paterson Police Department must be held accountable on the local, state and federal levels.

“At the same time, we must get out of our collective psyches that law enforcement is the right response for every disturbance.

“Until we boldly rethink how we interact with members of our community – especially Black men – this cycle of violence will continue.”