The police shooting of Andrew Washington continued to reverberate on Thursday night as the Municipal Council pulled a contract for a response team to handle mental health related 911 calls, and multiple speakers lambasted the city’s spokeswoman for comments she made about the Bergen-Lafayette man’s death.
The $4 million, three-year, contract with Jersey City Medical Center would have set up a “community crisis response” team to handle 911 calls involving mental health emergencies. Following Washington’s shooting, family members, activists and some city officials called for the implementation of the “Arrive Together” program to address such calls. The program has been implemented in a number of New Jersey municipalities, including Newark, Bayonne, Elizabeth and Linden.
Councilman Daniel Rivera complained that the council didn’t have sufficient information to vote on the contract. “We need to make sure we get this right” he said. Council President Joyce Watterman promised to have presenters from the medical center available for questioning at the next caucus meeting. They would, she promised, “explain exactly what services they are going to render.” She encouraged the public to submit questions.
City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione drew a torrent of criticism from speakers after defending the police response to the Washington shooting in the Jersey Journal. “That call came in from the start as a violent and emotionally disturbed person who turned out to be armed and dangerous….No program in the country would send an unarmed civilian into that scenario including this program” she said in the piece.
Robyn Gorman from the Hudson Partnership excoriated Wallace-Scalcione’s assessment. “They kicked the door open to intimidate and escalate an already unstable individual and then blame them for being terrified in order to justify a killing.” Randy Davenport, an attorney for the Washington family, said Wallace-Scalcione had “poured salt on the wounds” of the Washington family. Calling out Wallace-Scalcione, Jersey City Together’s Bill Lillis opined “I think the program Jersey City Together advocated for, had that been in place, that situation would have been de-escalated because Drew would have known the person who he was talking to and that person would have known Drew.”
In other business, the council pushed consideration of a controversial 40-year “water services franchise and service agreement” with the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority to its November 8 meeting. Critics have alleged that the contract could amount to a backdoor tax increase on property owners.
A large contingent of Black contractors kicked off the public speaking portion of the meeting, complaining that they had been shut out of city work. David Timmons said he hadn’t seen any Black contractors on city construction sites. “We grew up here.” Noting that “almost every” construction site in Jersey City is manned by white or Latino workers, Edward Perkins said “it has to be a conspiracy that minority contractors in our city are not getting business.”
On a vote of 7-1, the council approved introduction of an ordinance that will allow for additional residential density and the building of small unattached structures called “accessory dwelling units.” The sole nay vote against the ordinance, which is meant to increase the housing stock and affordability, was Councilman Richard Boggiano, who called it a “disgrace.” He added “this is going to destroy a lot of the city.”
Cynthia Hadjiyannis of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance complained that a contracts totaling $1.3 million to build a bridge at the reservoir had gone out without public building. “Is the contract even valid?” She called the plans “sketchy” and “incomplete.” Meera Jaffrey agreed. “To purchase a 96-foot bridge for a historic landmark for a historic landmark from a company that makes playground equipment…is completely inappropriate.” She lamented that fact that her group, which had obtained the landmark status for the reservoir, was not consulted.