Andrew Washington’s murder highlights Jersey City’s inaction over racist policing
Jonah Henkle / People's World

JERSEY CITY, N.J.—On August 27th, Andrew Jerome Washington III, a beloved Jersey City community member, son, brother, and friend to many, was murdered by police, who received a call about an individual suffering from psychosis induced by bipolar disorder.

Washington, who had already experienced a traumatic encounter with police a decade earlier, was not offered a chance to de-escalate the situation, and his life would come to an abrupt end. As Washington was undergoing a mental health crisis, his family called the Jersey City Medical Center’s intervention hotline for help. However, no mental health professionals arrived.

Instead, police swarmed the block, and at least eight heavily armed officers entered Washington’s home despite the family pleading with them not to use lethal force.

Washington graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Jersey City and attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, eventually returning to his home state in 1994. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1996, endured many hospitalizations, and worked to maintain his mental health.

Upon arriving at Washington’s residence, Officer Felix DeJesus tased him, followed by Officer Stephen Gigante, who shot him twice. Washington was carried out motionless on a stretcher and eventually succumbed to his injuries. “When they took him out, they didn’t even tell us he was shot!” his aunt, Doris Ervin, told hundreds of people gathered for a vigil the following Tuesday. “They said, ‘Oh, just wait. We have a report for you guys to do.’”

Jonah Henkle / People’s World

The family found out hours later that he had been killed. “[The family] wishes they had never called you,” Edward Perkins told police captains at a local community meeting that Thursday. Perkins is a Program Assistant for the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition. “I feel like that too,” he continued. “On the South Side [where I live] … we lack resources, and instead, we have you and a whole bunch more of you … and it’s not helping us.”

On Sunday, September 5th, family and community members gathered at Berry Lane Park in the Communipaw-Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City for a second vigil to honor Washington’s memory and to provide a space for family members to find community solidarity. The event began with a performance of bomba music, a traditional dance and musical style originating in the African communities of Puerto Rico.

Organizations present at this event included the Anti-Violence Coalition, the NAACP, the Newark-based People’s Organization for Process, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Right to Counsel JC, Black Lives Matter Paterson, Peace Action NJ, and the CPUSA Hudson–Bergen club, to name a few. Various speakers, including members of grassroots organizations and residents, shared their stories of racist police violence within New Jersey and around the country.

During the Berry Lane Park vigil, a number of speakers, including Washington’s family members and other relatives of police violence victims, called for solidarity as well as legal action. “After all of these cases, I don’t have the same faith in the criminal justice system as some people have,” Lawrence Hamm of People’s Organization for Progress remarked during his speech. “But what I do have is faith in the people … because when the people unite and when the people fight, we can win.”

Unfortunately, Washington is not the only person murdered by police in N.J. Eight others were killed in the state this year. On March 3rd, Paterson police officers fatally shot 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks, a violence intervention specialist with the Paterson Healing Collective, continuing a pattern across the country of racially motivated and ableist violence on the part of police.

Held them accountable

At the Jersey City Municipal Council Meeting on September 7th, 2023, Perkins held the Councilmembers accountable.

“You have to realize that you are part of the reason why the help was not there,” he said. Several other community members came out to speak, including members of Jersey City Together, the designated peace site Our Lady of Sorrows Church, and friends of the family. They called attention to the fact that the city has failed to implement a crisis intervention policy that was voted on over one year ago.

In April of 2022, the Jersey City City Council passed a resolution authorizing the city to establish a crisis intervention program pairing mental health, social services, or emergency medical professionals with police in situations involving people with special behavioral and mental health needs. The city has yet to implement the program. Had qualified mental health professionals been sent to help Andrew Washington on August 27, statistics show he very likely would have survived his encounter with police.

As Washington’s cousin Tony Perkins said to attendees of the August 29 vigil, “There’s nothing justifiable about barging into a mentally ill person’s home unprepared and untrained.”

Among many raised during the Sept. 5th vigil, a primary point of contention is the lack of body camera footage that the N.J. Attorney General has not yet released. The family is also demanding an apology from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

The day after Washington was killed, the Mayor held a press conference in which he insisted that “the use of force was justified … and in line with police department training.” He and the Jersey City Police Department claim—so far, without providing evidence—that Washington lunged at them with a knife. However, the police put themselves in a situation where this was known to be a possibility without preparing a non-lethal response, and the city also did not implement a program designed to prevent a violent confrontation. And if shooting to kill is “in line with police department training,” that is only cause for further alarm.

On Saturday, September 9, Andrew Jerome Washington III’s funeral service was held at St. John the Baptist Church, a few blocks from his home. Family and friends wore green to the service in honor of Mental Health Awareness.

Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), also provided a eulogy. He had just returned from Jacksonville where the families of A.J. Laguerre, Angela Michelle Carr, and Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion mourned the loss of their loved ones, murdered by a white supremacist with an AR-15 style rifle with swastikas painted on it.

Sharpton called out the Mayor for saying the killing was justified “even before the investigation [was] complete. … Why couldn’t they wait on the Attorney General’s investigation?” he asked. “Why do you think that the families of this young man don’t love him like you love your family?”

Many Jersey City residents will be marching from Andrew Washington’s home to the next meeting of the Jersey City Municipal Council on Wednesday, September 20 to continue to demand justice.

In addition, the movement to end racist police violence in Jersey City and across the state is fighting to pass a bill in the Assembly and State Senate that would give municipalities the authority to establish Civilian Complaint Review Boards. This would be an important step toward community control of police and is in need of more support.

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Majorca Bateman-Coe
Majorca Bateman-Coe

Majorca Bateman-Coe is an activist in a six-year PhD position at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities campus) in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature with a Moving Image Studies Fellowship and an alternate nomination for a fellowship at The Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change. Her intended research will focus primarily on Slavic and Chinese cinemas, emergent media, and technologies of production and industrialization within urban contexts.

Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.