PATERSON – Najee Seabrooks, a member of a Paterson violence intervention group, was fatally shot by a city police officer on Friday afternoon after a five-hour standoff while he was barricaded inside his home.
Social justice activists and law enforcement sources agree on those basic facts. But they are at odds over whether the shooting was justified.
Members of the Paterson Healing Collective condemned the shooting, accusing city police of preventing them from helping their friend and colleague. They said police should not have allowed the situation to escalate to the point where deadly force was used.
Law enforcement officers said they could not allow civilians to participate in the crisis negotiations with someone in an emotionally disturbed state of mind. A Paterson police union leader said the cops at the scene had no choice but to fire their guns when Seabrooks brandished a knife and moved towards them.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced Friday evening that it was investigating the incident. But the only details made public by state authorities were the location and time of the 12:30 pm shooting.
Just 29 days prior to his death, Seabrooks was among 21 survivors of Paterson’s street violence who participated in a Healing Collective graduation ceremony for completing a leadership training course.
“He was someone who wanted to bring peace to this city,” said Healing Collective’s Liza Chowdhury. “He was a great mediator, and he did so much to help our youth.”
It was not clear what prompted Seabrooks to barricade himself inside his apartment building at 20 Mill Street. Police officials said he was treated as an emotionally disturbed person and that the department’s Emergency Response Team was deployed to negotiate with him.
Chowdhury said members of the Healing Collective went to the scene to try to de-escalate the situation.
“We went there to support him and they didn’t let us do it,” said Chowdhury. “We begged them to let us talk to him. This was an injustice.”
The president of Paterson Superior Officers police union, Mason Maher, said the officers at the scene tried various “non-lethal techniques” to get Seabrooks out of the barricaded basement apartment.
Maher said Seabrooks eventually let officers inside that he came at them with at least one knife.
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“Unfortunately, he chose an option that ultimately led to this outcome,” Maher said. “The officers didn’t have a choice. No one is taking any pleasure in what happened. The officers are going to be suffering too.”
Maher said two officers fired their guns. Authorities have not revealed how many bullets struck Seabrooks.
Paterson police officials referred questions about the incident to the AG’s Office. Patrick Caserta, a lawyer who represents Paterson cops in shooting incidents, declined to comment.
“This is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office,” was all Mayor Andre Sayegh had to say when asked for his comments about the incident. Sayegh has come under criticism from community leaders for public statements he made about other police shootings in the city.
Sayegh recently said that all Paterson police officers have gone through de-escalation training during the past year. Sayegh in 2021 launched a de-escalation task force. But it took the mayor six months to appoint any members and the panel still hasn’t had any meetings more than a year after its formation.
The New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention Coalition issued a statement about Seabrooks’ death, calling him “a beloved father, brother, and an invaluable member of our community.”
“It is deeply distressing to hear that, in the midst of a mental health crisis, Najee’s team, his family, was not allowed to do the work they were trained to do,” the coalition said. “When he needed his community the most, he was denied the help he required, and the police response failed him.”
Seabrooks became involved with the Healing Collective – which is part of the coalition – after he was the victim of a shooting.
“Najee’s death is a tragic reminder that there is still much work to be done, and we must remain committed to our efforts,” the coalition said. “We will honor his memory by carrying on the mission he dedicated his life to, and we will not rest until we have created a safer and more just community for all.”
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ violence intervention activist killed in police shooting