BRIDGETON — Terry Elliott lovingly clutched a portrait of her late son, Joseph, who was gunned down in Bridgeton in 2011 during an argument over a basketball game.
Along with her son’s picture, she held a sign that demanded justice for Jerame Reid, another local man killed in a shooting.
“There have been too many killings in this little town. It has to stop,” said Elliott, 50, who was born and raised in Bridgeton and lives on Bank Street.
On Saturday, Elliott joined with about 200 marchers to protest the fatal shooting of Reid, a black man, by two Bridgeton police officers during a traffic stop Dec. 30 at the corner of Henry Street and South Avenue.
Reid’s death has angered the black community in the economically distressed Cumberland County town, although protests have been peaceful. Mayor Albert Kelly, who participated in Saturday’s march, praised residents for their patience and tolerance while an investigation of the shooting continues by the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.
Protesters, some bused in from Philadelphia and Newark, began their march at the corner where Reid was killed and made their way across town to the Cumberland County Court House. A makeshift memorial consisting of Reid’s picture, a small cross and signs denouncing police brutality mark the spot where the 36-year-old man died.
Next to the memorial, Reid’s 38-year-old widow, Lawanda Reid, dished out soup to the marchers during a bitterly cold Saturday. She wore a black sweatshirt inscribed with the words, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.”
“All I want to do is to thank everybody for coming out and show them my appreciation,” she said, declining further comment.
“Hands up. Don’t shoot,” has become a national catchphrase in protest of police shootings of black men across the country. Protesters at the Bridgeton march said Reid was unarmed and had raised his hands in surrender when he was shot by police.
“This is an indictment of rogue cops who do the wrong thing,” said Walter Hudson, the march organizer and chairman of the Salem County-based civil rights group National Awareness Alliance.
Hudson and other speakers, while addressing the marchers on the steps of the courthouse, said they were willing to work hand in hand with law enforcement to fight crime. But they said they would not tolerate police abuse. They labeled police shootings of unarmed black men a “national epidemic.”
“I’m outraged. It’s a serious national problem. It’s the murder of unarmed people,” said Larry Hamm, state chairman of the Newark-based People’s Organization for Progress.
One marcher, Cornelia Culler, 65, of Lindenwold, Camden County, said she believes authorities would try to cover up Reid’s killing if protesters did not speak out.
“It’s important to be here, because I’m sick and tired of seeing young black men shot down in the street like they were dogs,” Culler said, while holding a sign condemning Reid’s death.
Kelly, who did not publicly address the crowd, said he is waiting for the outcome of the investigation before drawing any conclusions as mayor. He said he has not sensed any “outrage” in the community over Reid’s death, but frustration has been growing in the wake of police shootings of black people nationwide.
“I can understand it, with all of the incidents all around the country,” Kelly said.
Hudson has asked the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to take over the investigation from the prosecutor’s office because Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae knows Officer Braheme Days, one of the policemen involved in Reid’s shooting. Webb-McRae has recused herself from the case. The investigation is being supervised by the county’s first assistant prosecutor, who has promised “a thorough, fair and impartial investigation.”
Days, who is black, and Officer Roger Worley, who is white, fired on Reid. Law enforcement officials previously said Days and Worley discharged their weapons after a handgun was “revealed” during the traffic stop.
Dashboard camera video from a police car showed a hectic series of events that ended with Reid being shot as he stepped out of the passenger side of a vehicle. The video seems to indicate Reid was unarmed and was holding his hands at chest level when shot.
The video also indicates Reid was not following orders given by Days, including instructions not to move. Statements by Days indicated he believed Reid was “reaching” for something in the vehicle before Reid got out of it.
Hudson said police have tried to demonize Reid by focusing on his criminal history.
“They want to label Jerame Reid a thug because he had a past,” Hudson said.
Hudson vowed that there would be more marches and protests as long as the community remains unsatisfied with the investigation. He hinted at more extreme protests that could include boycotts and having marchers go to jail.
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