Najee Seabrooks, a violence intervention specialist, was killed by police during a mental health crisis
Najee Seabrooks, a violence intervention specialist, was killed by New Jersey police on March 3.
Body camera footage showed officers saying they would take Najee to his mother before shooting him.
"Until this country finds a solution people will still continue to become hashtags," a BLM advocate told Insider.
Najee Seabrooks was a violence intervention specialist. In his work with the Paterson Healing Collective, a hospital-based outreach program in the New Jersey city, he counseled high-risk victims of violent crime on their rights and how to heal from trauma.
On March 3, after calling 911 and pleading "I need help bad," he was shot and killed by police while experiencing a crisis himself, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's office.
Recently released body cam footage has thrust Seabrooks' death into the spotlight, highlighting another tragic example of a call for help during a mental health episode turning deadly. The New Jersey Attorney General is now investigating the incident.
The New Jersey Attorney General's office and Paterson Police Department did not immediately respond to Insider's request for records or comment regarding Seabrooks' death.
After multiple calls to 911 saying he was thinking about killing himself, officers responded to Seabrooks' family home, where he had locked himself in a bathroom and injured himself, according to a statement released by the New Jersey Attorney General's office. Seabrooks acknowledged he had several knives and a gun he called a "pocket rocket," per the AG.
A nearly five-hour standoff ensued, wherein Seabrooks "vacillated from expressing a willingness to cooperate with the police and accept the help being offered, to saying that he was going to die in the bathroom and take one of the officers with him," according to the New Jersey attorney general.
According to a statement released by the AG's office, during the hours that law enforcement was on the scene, officers deployed approximately 15 sponge-tipped projectiles at Seabrooks, "but were not effective in subduing him."
"Naj, c'mon, let's take you to your mother," a member of the Paterson Police Department's Emergency Response Team can be heard saying on bodycam footage released by the AG's office. "Let her talk to you. I'm sure she doesn't want to see you like this."
As the officer spoke, Seabrooks quickly exited the bathroom, rushing toward officers, the AG claimed. The AG's statement indicates Seabrooks had one of the knives in his hand, though it is unclear from the bodycam footage. Officers fired five rounds, striking Seabrooks, who was pronounced dead at Saint Joseph's Medical Center — a hospital where he had previously volunteered.
"At approximately 12:35 p.m., Mr. Seabrooks came out of the bathroom and lunged toward the officers with a knife in his hand," according to the AG's statement. "Two members of the ERT, Officer Anzore Tsay and Officer Jose Hernandez, discharged their weapons striking Mr. Seabrooks."
Concerns over the Attorney General's version of events
Advocates from Black Lives Matter to the ACLU have concerns over the Attorney General's version of events as relayed in the public statement.
"Statements that use definitive language to describe disputed events involving lethal force – for example, using 'lunge' to describe the last movements of Mr. Seabrooks – undermine the purpose of the law by swaying the narrative, undercut the role of grand juries, and diminish public confidence in the independence of the process," ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero said in a statement emailed to Insider.
Justice advocates argue the AG's framing of Seabrooks' killing was intended to make the 31-year-old out to be more dangerous than he was and downplay the impact of officers shooting the people they are called to help.
Activists are also concerned about how the police responded to a mental health crisis.
"I believe that they did not give him the support and the care that he needed, because, one, he was a staff member from the Paterson Healing Collective," Zellie Imani, an activist with Black Lives Matter Paterson, told Insider, adding the group had an occasionally contentious relationship with local police due to the nature of their violence intervention methods because PHC members would counsel victims of violence of their rights — sometimes in ways that meant victims chose not to cooperate with law enforcement.
"But also because I don't think they have the compassion for people going through a mental health crisis," Imani added.
The Paterson Healing Collective did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
'Policing failed him'
Police killing people experiencing mental health issues is well documented. In July, 22-year-old Christian Glass was shot and killed by police after calling 911 because his car was stuck in a ditch. Miles Hall was killed by police in Walnut Creek, California, on On June 2, 2019, after his mother called for help with symptoms of his existing schizoaffective disorder.
Insider previously reported how the parents of people who call 911 on their children in hope of getting mental health help sometimes end up living with lifelong trauma when their children are killed by the people who were supposed to help them.
"I think history is clear, that we are not best when it comes to dealing with people with mental health issues, and in fact, our very nature, it becomes an excitant — we excite situations," Kalfani Turè, a former police officer and current professor of African American studies with a focus on policing at Mount St. Mary's University, told Insider.
Turè added that, symbolically, guns and uniforms can serve to agitate already irritated people or those who may be experiencing a crisis: "So no, I don't think that we've had a good track record."
Activists like Imani, as well as experts like Turè, have long argued that police should not be the primary response system for mental health calls, due in part to lack of training but also the time and nuance required for addressing these types of crises.
"I don't think that police officers should be the ones to respond, or at least be the ones to respond exclusively" to mental health calls, Turè told Insider, echoing the sentiment of activists and experts around the country. "I don't think we're trained as crisis managers, as mental health specialists, as psychologists, and social workers — I think there needs to be a legion of social workers and counselors who work, not just alongside the police, but who work independent of the police."
While calls for police reform have been renewed in New Jersey following Seabrooks' death, Imani told Insider there is an increased urgency to address these problems now, knowing that lives are being lost while the debate is ongoing.
"I still deeply believe that Najee should still be alive because policing failed him," Imani told Insider. "And policing in this country still does not have an adequate solution to dealing with people with a mental health crisis and until this country finds a solution people will still continue to become hashtags."
Read the original article on Insider