Law Enforcement Address “Culture Of Fear”

Residents and law enforcement officials discussed bias attacks. (Photo by Patricia A. Miller)

LAKEWOOD – A new state directive aimed at strengthening trust between immigrants and law enforcement officers will go into effect in mid – March, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said at a seminar last week.

  “There exists today a culture of fear,” Grewal said at the meeting, which detailed how the new “Immigrant Trust Directive” will impact both immigrants and police. “Crimes go unreported and justice goes unserved. We don’t want people to fear the badge.”

  But anyone found guilty of a crime in the state will pay the price, he said.

  “If you commit a crime in New Jersey, regardless of your immigration status, you will still go to jail,” Grewal said. “We will still work with ICE Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

  The seminar organized by Grewal and Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, was held in the auditorium of Lakewood High School. It was sparsely attended, with about one hundred audience members.

  No one will be stopped by law enforcement officers based on their race or immigration status, Grewal said.

  “It’s going to take a long time to build trust,” he said. “But we are committed to do this.”

Photo by Patricia A. Miller

  The directive also limits types of voluntary assistance that the state’s law enforcement officers can provide to federal immigration authorities. It applies to police officers, correctional officers and prosecutors.

  “This is a really important subject here in Lakewood,” a man who identified himself as a member of the Lakewood NAACP. “If you get stopped by police….the fear is there already.”

  Grewal told the story of two young men prosecuted in Bergen County who will now spend much of their adult lives in state prison because of their involvement in bias crimes, including pelting a Lodi synagogue with firebombs back in 2012. The rabbi and his family escaped without harm.

  One of the men’s goals was “to burn that synagogue down,” Grewal said. Each of the men will spend decades in jail for their crimes.

  The Facebook page “Rise Up Ocean County” was also mentioned by a number of audience speakers during the public session.

  One man told Grewal that the Rise Up Ocean County preaches a “cauldron of hatred” and “tiptoes up to the line of blatant anti-Semitism.” He proceeded to read a number of posts he said he found of the site.

  Grewal said he could not address specific incidents. But he did say there are plenty of ways concerns can be addressed.

Photo by Patricia A. Miller

  Bias incidents and hate crimes can be reported to local police, the county prosecutor’s office, the office of Homeland Security or the Attorney General’s office. Reports can be made anonymously.

  New Jersey has nine protected classes. They include race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin and ethnicity.

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Patricia A. Miller began her career in 1984 as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press. She covered a variety of towns in Ocean County and wrote an award-winning column, "Ocean Diary," each week. She later spent seven years at Greater Media Newspapers and served as managing editor of the Edison/Metuchen Sentinel, the Woodbridge Sentinel and the Brick Township Bulletin during that time. Pat spent the last 8 years as a local Patch editor. Pat has won a number of awards during her time as a journalist, including the New Jersey Press Association, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists and the North Jersey Press Club.