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Paterson activists demand accountability for police who killed Najee Seabrooks

Protesters confront Paterson Police outside the Paterson Police Department on March 11 (courtesy of Tennyson Donyea)
Tennyson Donyea
Protesters confront Paterson Police outside the Paterson Police Department on March 11 (courtesy of Tennyson Donyea)

Family and friends of Paterson, New Jersey anti-violence advocate Najee Seabrooks are demanding that police release bodycam footage of Seabrooks’ killing to his family.

Paterson Police fatally shot Seabrooks on March 3 after a four-hour altercation at a residence on Mill Street, authorities said.

Protests amplified over the weekend as demonstrators called for full transparency and accountability.

Dozens gathered outside the Frank X. Graves, Jr. Public Safety Complex and a business associated with an officer involved in the incident.

“Jail the killer cops,” the crowd implored on Friday.

Seabrooks was mentally distressed when Paterson Police were dispatched, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

Police shot and killed Seabrooks after he locked himself in a bathroom. Last week the attorney general said officers Anzore Tsay and Jose Hernandez shot Seabrooks after officers Hector Mendez, Qiad Lin, and Mario Vdovjak deployed non-lethal force.

Seabrooks was a member of a violence intervention group called Paterson Healing Collective, the first hospital-based violence intervention program in Passaic County, according to its website. The Collective is trained in crisis intervention and advocates said the group should have been allowed to help de-escalate the situation.

“They didn’t have to shoot him,” said Gladys Reed, a family friend. “You need to hear somebody's voice that they know, and they can calm them down, so it won't have to get to this situation.”

Monday, a coalition including the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice, Black Lives Matter Paterson, and the ACLU-NJ sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice urging the agency to launch its own investigation into the Paterson Police Department, claiming police have engaged in “widespread unlawful and unconstitutional conduct.”

The letter compiles a comprehensive list of Paterson police misconduct over the last few years, including shootings and illegal searches and seizures.

“Residents of Paterson have lived for years under a police department with a history of excessive force and other abuse, all felt disproportionately by Black and brown residents in one of the most diverse cities in the country,” the letter reads.

According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s “Use of Force” database, Hernandez used force 15 times between October 2020 and December 2022.

Community members in Paterson have called for police to suspend the involved officers without pay, effective immediately.