‘With Utter Disgust’: Educator Janine Brown resigns from Jersey City Public Safety Board

With “utter disgust and overwhelming disappointment,” local educator Janine Brown is announcing her resignation from the Jersey City Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board.

Left-to-Right: Public Safety Director James Shea, local educator Janine Brown, and Mayor Steven Fulop.

By Janine Brown

It is with utter disgust and overwhelming disappointment that I formally submit this letter of resignation from the Jersey City Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board.

Amid this international race crisis, the city’s leadership found it fitting to capitalize on the moment by taking Pres. Barack Obama’s pledge to amend the use of force policy, forming an ad hoc committee to review police policies and procedures, and creating a Black Lives Matter Day. Conversely, the same administration quickly dismissed the notion of de-funding the police all the while excluding, thereby de-valuing, the black and brown voices on the already established Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board. Yet, we, the constituents, are to believe that Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea are committed to bringing sustainable systemic changes to policing in Jersey City.

Growing up, I cultivated a disdain and mistrust of the police – like many black and brown youth in urban areas. It appeared that whenever a call for 911 was made, it always ended dreadfully. I’ve experienced the gamut of negative police interactions, from observing a physical assault on my mentally ill mother to being profiled and verbally abused during warranted and unwarranted traffic stops.

As I evolved into an educator and youth advocate, I listened to my youth echo the same sentiment and attitude towards officers that I once held. I empathize with their perspective; however, as a role model, I deemed it necessary to broaden their perspective and challenge their viewpoints to promote unity in my community. It wasn’t until my childhood friends became officers; until I experienced the compassion of my school resource officer; and until I bore witness to the passion and dedication of BLESC (Blacks in Law Enforcement Servicing the Community) that my perception began to change.

When the idea of the Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board was broached to me, I was eager to join. On the surface, it appeared to be the perfect opportunity to acquire more knowledge of the inner workings of policing; be a conduit to strengthen police and community relations particularly with youth; offer insight about the systemic trauma due to policing; and engage in productive discourse that would ultimately yield sound strategy for improving my community and advocacy for social justice issues.

At least 2 years have passed and I have never felt more unseen and unheard.

In the past year, incident after incident has occurred in which black bodies have been battered at the hands of JCPD. If the board had the ability to legitimately advise –which is the intended purpose of an “advisory board”- our city would have been ahead of the game. As a Black woman with a vibrant voice, it is a slap in the face and quite ironic that the Fulop administration waited until mass protests to be moved to action.

Well played, Mayor Fulop (he is quite strategic in political chess). However, members of the community aren’t pawns and we will not be satisfied with small changes to policing policy. The protection and value of our lives isn’t a trend, Mr. Mayor; BLACK LIVES MATTER and they always have!

Several young people lost their lives at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown. Several board members, including myself, requested a virtual meeting. I wanted to discuss the limited manpower on the force due to COVID-19, the homicides involving black youth, and devise strategies to assist police in enforcing social distancing – no response.

It is now June and we have yet to have any communication.

It was my desire to be a part of meaningful transformation. I envisioned the board to be an entity that was preventive rather than reactionary. Quite frankly, it’s neither. Director Shea and Mayor Fulop fail to recognize the need for true community policing or say it doesn’t work for our city. Their implicit bias is evident in how they rally to make excuses for inappropriate police conduct before investigating, or how they consistently victim shame and blame. They fail to realize the impact of socio-economic inequities that lead to crime, but more importantly they display willful ignorance to the plight of our black and brown community.

The Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board is a façade to merely say one exists. There is little worth placed on our acumen and the cultural capital that comes with it. If the board was respected I wouldn’t be moved to pen this exposition.

Therefore, I resign because I refuse to be affiliated with a fruitless endeavor. I resign because I refuse to be part of a construct designed to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I hope my resignation speaks louder than my muted presence on the board.

Looking ahead, if the Fulop administration truly aspires to create institutional progress – they must first re-imagine policing that encompasses a community-led paradigm. A community-led approach will ensure that the voices of black and brown people are heard and that constituents are working in tandem with law enforcement.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Janine Brown is not the first member of the Jersey City Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board that resigned due to their frustration with how the board was operating.

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