BRIDGETON, N.J. — What started as a peaceful protest against police brutality and unaccountability outside the Cumberland County Courthouse in New Jersey ended in the arrest of two people, following a suspected provocation by police. On Saturday, Feb. 28, police armed with AR-style rifles arrived at the protest and ordered the demonstrators, who gathered on public grounds, to disperse.
The protest was organized by the National Awareness Alliance, a civil rights group based in Salem County, N.J. The stated intent for the demonstration was to unite families in the surrounding area to demand justice for loved ones injured or killed by police. The demonstration started at the intersection where Bridgeton police officer Braheme Days shot and killed Jerame Reid, 37, of Bridgeton, on Dec. 30, 2014. It was the fifth demonstration demanding justice since Reid’s death.
The half-mile march of approximately 200 protesters was led by Reid’s mother, Sheila Reid. Also among the protesters were Tanya Brown Dickerson, whose son Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, was killed by police in Philadelphia on Dec. 15, Regina Ashford, the mother of Kashad Ashford, 23, killed by police in Rutherford, N.J., on Sep. 16, and Ikea Coney and her 17-year-old son Darrin Manning, who were victims of a vicious attack by police in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Moments before the police attacked the crowd of demonstrators, a Jeep driven by a New Jersey state police officer barked commands that that the crowd leave the area. When the protesters refused to disperse, an SUV came from behind the Jeep and drove straight into the crowd, striking a man. The man responded by kicking the tire of the SUV, which immediately prompted dozens of police vehicles to descend upon the demonstration. Police arrested the man who was struck by the SUV and made no attempt to apprehend the driver involved in the vehicular assault.
Protest organizers were quick to denounce the attack as a provocation by police designed to silence Sheila Reid, who was preparing to speak when the assault occurred. The attack came minutes after Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly addressed the protesters. Demonstrators reported that they had spotted police equipped with paramilitary gear on the roof nearby restaurant, taking photographs of the rally.
Police in New Jersey have a history of attempting to silence recent protests. In February, Bridgeton police officers broke up a demonstration and violated the rights of four protesters by issuing citations for violating a city ordinance requiring people to walk only on sidewalks.
A Recent History of Deadly Police Stops in Philadelphia and New Jersey
On Dec. 30, 2014, Jerame Reid was the passenger in a car which was pulled over by police for allegedly failing to completely stop at a stop sign. The murder was recorded by a dashboard camera of a police vehicle, and showed Reid was unarmed and had his hands in the air when Bridgeton police officer Braheme Days shot and killed him. In response to the murder of the unarmed man, Officer Days has been placed on paid administrative leave while the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office allegedly investigates the murder. Since Days shot and killed Reid, he has also been accused in a $25 million lawsuit of coercing a New Jersey woman into having sex with him in order to avoid a shoplifting charge. The alleged rape happened days before Officer Braheme Days murdered Reid. Officer Days has yet to be charged with a crime.
15 days prior to Reid’s murder, on Dec. 15, 2014, Philadelphia police shot and killed Brandon Tate-Brown after detaining him for allegedly driving with his headlights off. Tanya Brown Dickerson, Tate-Brown’s mother, spoke at the recently attacked protest and noted that many fatal encounters with the police start with “routine” traffic stops. Tate-Brown also noted that the lights of her son’s car appeared to be on when the police killed him, standing contrary to the police’s claims.
Police alleged that Tate-Brown was attempting to reach a stolen gun they claim was visible on the passenger’s side console of the car. Video of the killing captured by a police patrol car shows minutes of Tate-Brown struggling and being assaulted prior to fleeing the vehicle altogether, at which time he was shot in the back of the head. The officers who killed Tate-Brown have yet to be identified or charged with a crime for the incident.
Kashad Ashford was shot and killed by police while a witness claims he was unconscious on Sep. 16, 2014 in Rutherford, N.J. Ashford was driving a stolen SUV when Rutherford police attempted to pull him over, and gave chase when Ashford failed to do so. Ashford crashed the SUV into a guardrail, which the passenger says left Ashford unconscious. Officers dispute this claim with their own, in which they say Ashford backed the SUV into police cruisers at a high speed with only several feet to do so, while the officers were still in their vehicles, causing them to fear for their lives and shoot him in self-defense. The police story was also contradicted by a resident at the scene who said the cars had stopped moving prior to officers firing their weapons. The officers responsible for killing Ashford have yet to be identified.