This is why Paterson activists are concerned about a police pursuit and a fatal crash

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PATERSON — Social justice activists and some city officials said last week’s crash death of a moped driver being pursued by Totowa police officers stemmed from a longstanding practice of urban profiling endured by Paterson residents.

Five days after the incident, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office had not yet made public critical information in the case, such as why Totowa police were following the moped driver, how far they pursued him, and why they continued their chase into Paterson.

But activists said the scant details that have been released reflected many years of incidents in which Paterson residents were pursued by police from surrounding towns into the city, often over minor infractions.

What did activists say?

Police at the scene where a person was killed during an apparent police pursuit of a motorcycle that ended up in a crash on McBride Avenue at Nagle Street in Paterson, NJ around 7:15 p.m. on September 20, 2023. (Photo/Christopher Sadowski)

“Historically, this has been a major problem for Paterson, where police in other towns chase us for no reason,” said activist Ernest Rucker. “This time, the person is dead.”

In fact, activists said the lack of information released about the incident reinforced their expectations that the moped driver had not committed a serious crime.

“If the person did something wrong, they would have said it already,” asserted Paterson Black Lives Matter leader Zellie Thomas.

Why did Totowa cops chase scooter?: NJ Attorney General keeps mum on fatal Paterson crash

What did officials say?

Police chiefs in three surrounding towns — Totowa, Prospect Park and Haledon — did not respond to a reporter’s messages seeking their comments for this story.

Pat Caserta, the lawyer representing the Totowa cop who initiated the pursuit, declined to make any comment on the incident.

State investigators have not made public the name of the deceased victim or the names of the Totowa police officers who were pursuing him.

The Attorney General’s Office has said the Totowa police started following the moped driver at an undisclosed location in that town and that they continued to do so when the scooter crossed the border into Paterson. The moped driver suffered fatal injuries and his passenger non-life-threatening injuries in a crash with a civilian car on McBride Avenue, about six blocks into Paterson.

Authorities have not revealed how fast the vehicles were traveling or whether the police officers turned on their sirens and flashing lights.

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‘Has to stop’

“They’re not providing enough information,” said Valerie Freeman, a member of the Paterson Board of Education. “It’s not acceptable.

Freeman said she wants to know whether Totowa police alerted Paterson law enforcement officials as they crossed the border into the city.

Thomas said the incidents sounded like another instance of “targeted harassment” by cops in neighboring towns.

“That practice has to stop,” said the BLM leader.

Paterson Councilman Michael Jackson said police in adjoining towns often sit parked on the border with Paterson to stop people driving into the city. In particular, he named Totowa, Prospect Park, and Haledon, adding that Haledon has improved since a new mayor took office there.

“It’s not something that’s unusual,” Jackson said of the border monitoring.

Jackson said local officers often violate Attorney General’s Office guidelines for police conduct and said the office doesn’t do a good enough job enforcing its own guidelines.

Thomas, meanwhile, said the Attorney General’s Office is inconsistent when it comes to releasing information about police incidents that result in people’s deaths. He said information that “criminalizes the victims” gets released much more quickly than information that points towards police wrongdoing.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Paterson NJ: BLM activists worry about police chase, fatal crash

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