About 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Essex County Courthouse in Newark on Saturday to call for police reform and an end to police brutality. The rally was held in front of the courthouse’s famous Seated Lincoln statue, and featured around a dozen speakers.
The protest came after a state grand jury declined earlier this week to indict a Newark police detective in the fatal shooting of Carl Dorsey, an unarmed Black man, on New Year’s Day in 2021. Newark city officials have said they’ll open their own investigation into whether police violated any procedures in Dorsey’s death. Surveillance video of the incident shows Dorsey ran into Officer Rod Simpkins on foot, when Simpkins and several officers arrived in front of a row of townhouses on a report of gunfire. As Simpkins fell to the ground, he fired at Dorsey, killing him.
“We’re here today to demand justice for Carl Dorsey, who was unarmed when he was shot to death by a Newark police officer,” said Lawrence Hamm, a longtime activist, former state chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2020 and chair of the Newark-based People’s Organization for Progress. “And this week after two years of silence about this case, the grand jury came forward and failed to indict the officer that shot and killed unarmed Carl Dorsey.”
The protest was also one of many that have gripped the country in the wake of the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after being beaten by five Memphis Police Department officers during a traffic stop earlier this month. Body cam and surveillance footage of the incident that was released on Friday sparked a nationwide outpouring of grief and anger.
The five officers involved in the incident, who are also Black, were fired on Jan. 20 and were charged with second-degree murder on Jan. 26. On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department said it had disbanded the unit the officers were part of.
“And while we find solace in the fact that the criminal justice system moved swiftly to arrest and charge these five officers, we would like to see it move as swiftly in charging white officers as they have these five Black officers,” Hamm said.
The protesters also called for increased transparency, more civilian oversight of the police, and an end to qualified immunity, no-knock warrants and chokeholds. Some members of the state’s Legislature have introduced bills that would enable local civilian review boards with subpoena power, but they’ve stalled out amid pushback from police unions and limited support from lawmakers. A bill that would have limited the use of chokeholds has likewise stalled.
“They shouldn’t be able to brutalize people in one town and then go and get a job in another town because we can’t look at their records,” Hamm said. “No. We want all of those police reform bills passed now.”
Among the speakers was Valerie Dale Cobbert, whose brother, Gulia Dale III, died in a July 4, 2021 confrontation with police. In a 911 recording released by the state attorney general’s office in August of that year, Dale’s wife is heard telling a dispatcher she was concerned about his behavior, and that he had a gun. The Attorney General’s Office said at the time Dale tried to leave in his car, despite verbal commands from three uniformed officers who arrived. When he got out with an object in his hand, the office said, two officers shot Dale, fatally wounding him. A gun was found at the scene, the office said.
Cobbert referred to the shooting as a “murder.” The state attorney general’s office, which investigates all shootings involving police, hasn’t issued any statements about its findings since releasing the 911 calls and footage from officers’ body-worn cameras.
“In 12 seconds they murdered my brother, seven shots. They did not render any help for him,” she said. “They did not call, they did not wait for any mental health [or] behavioral health staff to come to help him. He was suffering from PTSD and he was having an episode that day and the case is going to grand jury, coming up this year, not sure when, within weeks or even months.”
“The police department have proven to us that they don’t protect and serve us,” said attendee Rick Whilby. Whilby said he had been working with the family of Bernard Placide Jr., who was killed by police in Englewood in September.
That incident, too, remains under investigation by the state attorney general’s office. It said last year that when Englewood officers responded to a 911 call about a domestic violence disturbance involving a man with a knife, they found one of what they would ultimately learn to be three stabbing victims. They found Placide in a bedroom with a knife, and when he didn’t comply with orders to drop the weapon, officers Tasered and then fatally shot him, the office said.
On Friday, state Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin addressed Tyre Nichols’ beating and death, saying there was “no excuse for this violence.”
“It erodes the trust between community and law enforcement that people across this state tirelessly work to build and strengthen,” Platkin said. “We will not let violence win and we will redouble our efforts to maintain and grow the strong partnerships we have built.”
Christian Santana and Louis C. Hochman also contributed reporting.