New Jersey: Campaign Launched To Reimagine Policing, Public Safety, Abolish Drug War

new campaign to remove law enforcement from the response to behavioral health crises, including substance use and overdose.

Photos: NJPAC\Twitter

ELIZABETH, N.J. — (October 18, 2021) — Today, Salvation and Social Justice (SandSJ), a leading faith-rooted social justice organization based in New Jersey, launched a new campaign to remove law enforcement from the response to behavioral health crises, including substance use and overdose.

The campaign, Make the Right C.A.L.L. (Community Alternatives Leading to Liberation), seeks to address New Jersey’s overinvestment in policing through funding for community-centered solutions like education, housing, health care, and harm reduction.

Today’s launch follows a four-month-long community listening and stakeholder engagement process to identify community safety needs, brainstorm safe alternatives to a police-led response, and lift up the voices and concerns of community members with lived experience. The campaign kicked off with an official launch event at Mount Teman AME Church in Elizabeth with remarks from Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, partners at New Jersey Policy Perspective and Newark Community Street Team, and community members.

As part of the launch, SandSJ also released Make the Right Call, a new report detailing the findings of its community visioning process, including personal accounts from New Jersey community members about their own experiences with policing, substance use, and mental health and policy recommendations to improve emergency response.

The report is available here.

“Make the Right C.A.L.L. is the community’s response to decades of racially-profiled violence, misconduct, and neglect in the state’s handling of substance use and overdoses,” said Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, founding director of Salvation and Social Justice. “For far too long, New Jersey has ignored the voices of impacted residents, taxpayers, and community leaders demanding a police-free response to community crises. Now, as rising police violence, a disturbing uptick in crime, and a scourge of overdose deaths target Black and Brown communities, it’s time that New Jersey finally put its people first.”

“We launched this campaign to center the needs and recommendations of the many individuals impacted by discriminatory policing, neighborhood disinvestment, and the War on Drugs. With today’s announcement, we are urging local and state legislators to invest in education, health care, harm reduction, and other community-backed solutions to help our neighborhoods thrive.”

“Investing in communities is how we make the right call,” said Marleina Ubel, policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective. “Community-led responses to crises are often more effective than police interventions that are premised on punishment. If we want safer and healthier communities for all residents, we must take a more holistic view of public safety. It’s time to put people first.”

“NCST is proud to stand alongside our partners as they launch the Making the Right C.A.L.L. campaign today,” said Solomon Middleton-Williams, director of programs at Newark Community Street Team. “We know, all too well, what underinvestment in communities looks like. As we’ve seen around the country and in our own work in Newark, community led responses work. They also play an important role in addressing trauma and leading communities on a path of healing. We look forward to working together to encourage New Jersey policymakers to invest in this approach.”

Substance use and overdose now rank among the leading causes of death across the state of New Jersey and nationwide. But despite the obvious public health implications, the state has historically criminalized these issues — particularly in Black communities.

According to a new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective, police budgets in at least two New Jersey communities dwarf budgets for health and human services. In fiscal year 2020, the police budget in Elizabeth, New Jersey was more than five times that of the Department of Health and Human Services. During that same period in Gloucester County, New Jersey, the police budget was two-and-a-half times that of the Department of Health and Human Services. This current criminalization model for addressing substance use and overdose is not only ineffective; it increases the likelihood of deadly police encounters.

Through a vision for community-led crisis response, SandSJ worked in close coordination with directly impacted leaders from two New Jersey communities to reimagine emergency response in a way that uplifts community voices and protects Black lives

Make the Right C.A.L.L.

Make the Right C.A.L.L. is a community-powered campaign to shift emergency response from law enforcement to local leaders, service providers, trained health experts, and other qualified professionals. Through direct local action, digital organizing, and community-building activities, the campaign is calling on New Jersey to:

  • Create and support community-led alternatives to policing to expand options for intervention that do not involve law enforcement;
  • Invest in new programs and resources like mental health counseling, affordable housing, and employment opportunities to build and restore communities;
  • Support existing programs, providers, and resources working to fill gaps in the social safety net;
  • Develop a more robust system for police accountability;
  • Focus on harm reduction in crisis response; and
  • Establish community-approved accountability measures to ensure that interventions are responsive to community needs and concerns.

Community Visioning Process

Make the Right C.A.L.L. is a direct response to local demands for creative and transformative community-based safety solutions. Between January and April 2021, SandSJ held 16 virtual community sessions with local residents in Elizabeth and Gloucester County, New Jersey. Community members were invited to share their personal experiences on various topics, including substance use, mental health, and barriers to change, as well as consider possibilities and offer policy recommendations for a safer, fairer, more effective emergency response.

Several key themes emerged, including expanding alternatives to policing, emphasizing harm reduction, improving treatment options, and making catalytic investments in community institutions. Community members overwhelmingly favored person-centered measures (e.g. community education, mental health counseling) to punitive measures (e.g. arrests and incarceration).

The campaign is expected to hold additional events and actions in the coming weeks.

To learn more about Make the Right C.A.L.L. or to get involved, visit the Make the Right C.A.L.L. website or follow SandSJ on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Salvation and Social Justice seeks to liberate public policy theologically by building Black faith-rooted communication strategies, advocacy, and public education campaigns, to lift up poor, underserved, and traditionally oppressed communities with a particular focus on racial justice through abolition, restoration, transformation, and coalition.

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