October 13, 2021

March for Social Justice Reform Includes Stops in Princeton

By Anne Levin

A march in support of subpoena power for civilian review boards of police in New Jersey will include a visit to Princeton on Thursday, with rallies at three locations in town to raise awareness of the issue.

The Coalition for Peace Action, Princeton Mutual Aid, and Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church are endorsing the march by Lawrence Hamm, president of the Newark-based People’s Organization for Progress.

Hamm, a 1978 graduate of Princeton University, is walking from Montclair to Trenton over nine days, “to highlight the issue of police brutality and to demand the New Jersey Legislature pass legislation to hold police accountable,” he said in a press statement. “First and foremost, we demand passage of A4656/S2963, the police review boards of civilians, with subpoena power bill.”

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Legislature looked at the bill, but it was stopped before it could be voted upon. “There was a good start,” said the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action. “But the bill got stuck. My good friend Larry Hamm has started this march to try to bring it back to our attention and say this needs to get finished.”

Hamm began the 67-mile trek, titled “The Long March for Justice: March to Trenton for Police Accountability, Social Justice, and Economic Progress” last Friday. He will be in Princeton on Thursday, October 14, and plans to wind up at the State House in Trenton on Saturday, October 16.

The Princeton stops include a 12 p.m. rally at the University’s FitzRandolph Gate on Nassau Street, followed by a march to the Paul Robeson Center at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place for a 12:30 p.m. rally, and the municipal complex at 400 Witherspoon Street for a concluding rally at 1:30 p.m.

“We chose the Robeson Center intentionally because of the bust of Paul Robeson, who is a great American hero,” said Moore. “We felt it was really important symbolism. When we see a problem in our nation, we need to always work to make it better, which is what Paul Robeson did.”

According to statistics cited by Moore, one out of every 1,000 Black males will die from police violence rather than natural causes. “It was shocking to learn that,” he said, adding that he isn’t biased against the police. “In fact, I’m grateful because most of them are excellent officers,” he said. “But unfortunately, there are always bad apples. Even the best of us can slide into biased behavior.”

In addition to the efforts for legislation, the People’s Organization for Progress wants to highlight other issues during the march, including a bill to make officer disciplinary records public, a bill banning and criminalizing chokeholds, a bill establishing requirements for use of deadly force, and a bill ending qualified immunity in New Jersey.

The conclusion of the march at Witherspoon Hall recognizes efforts that Princeton’s Civil Rights Commission is making to propose a civilian review board, Moore said.

All are invited to participate in the rallies. Supporters urging action can also email state legislators on the Coalition’s website, peacecoalition.org.