This commentary was initially published by NJ Spotlight, a not-for-profit news site in New Jersey.
Initially, it was exciting to see my photographs of Camden, New Jersey, law enforcement officer marching with protesters released all over the world.
Not any longer.
The images reveal an oft-maligned city reacting with unity and peace to the killing of George Floyd. They provide people hope.
However the most recent media story– that in 2013, the Camden City Police department was liquified in order to root out corruption, and from its ashes came a friendly, county-run force that sets a nationwide design for community policing– is a bridge too far. It's important to get the history right, since amidst require defunding police departments, what took place here shows that this is a more complex issue than people recognize.
It's real that Camden is much more secure these days. In recent years, the force has upped the hiring of minority officers, taught officers de-escalation strategies, worked more carefully with social service agencies, and hosted area events to be familiar with the neighborhood on a regular basis.
The political computation
But contrary to many of the reports that were published with my photographs in recent weeks, the Camden County Police Department was not substantiated of an altruistic desire to get rid of corrupt polices. It was produced by South Jersey political leaders, with the assistance of then-Gov. Chris Christie, to break the policeman union with contracts they thought about difficult, thus cutting costs.
The issue was that to make that occur, they laid off nearly half the police in January 2011. I stood in the street on that bitter, cold early morning enjoying tearful officers place their boots on the icy walkway in demonstration.
The most generous view of that– and the explosion of criminal offense that followed– would be that officials didn't realize what would happen. Many of us, though, believed it was perhaps the most cynical political choice we ‘d ever seen, an intentional effort to increase the criminal activity rate to justify a brand-new county department.
A field of crosses for murder victims
The death toll was so horrific that activists created a field of crosses in front of Camden's City Hall, planting a brand-new one for each of the nearly 70 murder victims in 2012. (There were 37 murders in Camden in 2010, 52 in 2011.) I was a regular visitor to the field; in some cases the heartbreaking images I took there went unpublished due to the fact that editors didn't wish to depress readers.