Paterson’s BLM group demands restructuring of police department after fatal shooting

PATERSON — The city’s Black Lives Matter group is calling for the restructuring of the Paterson Police Department in response to Friday’s fatal police shooting of a violence intervention specialist who had barricaded himself in his apartment for five hours.

The activist group is demanding that Paterson create a civilian crisis-assistance team composed of social workers and intervention specialists to handle cases of people having mental health crises. The organization outlined its demands in a statement the day after Najee Seabrooks, 31, was fatally shot.

Paterson BLM also wants the city to set up a civilian complaint review board to investigate allegations of police wrongdoing and to end the practice of providing accused cops with financial immunity when their actions result in civil lawsuits against them and the city.

Najee Seabrooks

“No amount of diversity, de-escalation training, or increased use of surveillance technology will end the endemic problem of violence and corruption in the Paterson police department,” said the statement, which was issued by Paterson BLM leader Zellie Thomas. “A complete restructuring of the Paterson Police Department along with fully funded community safety teams is long overdue in Paterson.”

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The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is investigating Friday’s fatal shooting of Seabrooks, a street shooting survivor who had been working with the Paterson Healing Collective’s violence intervention program.

Activists and law enforcement officials said Seabrooks had been barricaded inside his Mill Street apartment for more than five hours on Friday, until he allowed police officers inside. It was not clear what prompted Seabrooks’ apparent mental health crisis.

Seabrooks was shot after the police entered his home. The president of the union that represents Paterson’s ranking police officers said Seabrooks moved towards the officers wielding knives, prompting two officers to fire their weapons at him.

Multiple law enforcement officials said Paterson’s police emergency response team had brought one of Seabrooks’ relatives who works as a police officer in another city to the scene to try to de-escalate the situation.

Members of the PHC said they had been contacted by Seabrooks during the incident and rushed to the scene. The PHC members asserted they asked to speak to Seabrooks during the standoff but were denied access to him by the police.

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Mayor Andre Sayegh, who has repeatedly promised to improve relations between the Paterson police department and city residents, on Friday issued a brief statement saying that the case was being investigated by the attorney general’s office. On Saturday, Sayegh credited Paterson officers who responded to the incident and said the attorney general’s review of the shooting needed to play out.

“Many important details about yesterday’s incident are not yet public. However, we know that our police officers were on the scene for four hours trying to de-escalate the situation and allowed a family member to assist in those efforts to reach a peaceful resolution, Sayegh said. “Throughout the crisis, several officers were injured. We look forward to the attorney general’s review of this matter and will release further details of the incident at the appropriate time. It is a sad day anytime there is a loss of life in our community. My prayers and condolences are with Mr. Seabrook’s family, friends and our impacted community.”

Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale and newly-sworn-in police chief Englebert Ribeiro both said they welcomed BLM’s call for creating a civilian crisis assistance team.

“We need to do more to focus on mental health,” said Ribeiro. “It’s definitely a problem in our city and our country.”

Speziale said he would embrace the crisis team if its members were “properly vetted and had all the training.”

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The Paterson police department’s handling of people with emotional or mental problems already had come under fire in a pending lawsuit filed by the family of Jameek Lowery, who died in January 2019 after ingesting illegal drugs and then being struck by police officers as they restrained him on an ambulance gurney.

The Lowery lawsuit cited three instances since 2012 in which people with emotional problems were shot by Paterson police officers, including two who were killed.

The Paterson BLM statement issued Saturday predicted authorities would try to cover up what happened with Seabrooks.

“Although details are still emerging, we can expect the same old narrative from the police: that the killing was justified and they did everything they could,” said Thomas’s written statement. “In the days to come, we can expect the police to return to damage control and distort the details of the event.

“What is clear is the following,” Thomas added, “the police murdered someone having a mental health crisis; the police deployed an ineffective emergency response team; the police prevented family and friends from reaching Najee BEFORE and AFTER his shooting.”

The BLM groups are also demanding the release of the names of the officers involved, as well as any and all footage from the incident.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email:

This article originally appeared on Paterson NJ Najee Seabrooks fatal shooting: Police reform sought

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