Last night, hundreds of mourners gathered in front of a simple wood frame house on Randolph Avenue to sing, pray, reminisce, rage and exhort. Inside, just two days earlier, their relative and neighbor Andrew Jerome Washington had been gunned down, felled by two bullets from a Jersey City police officer’s gun.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting are now being investigated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

According to Jersey City authorities, police from the Emergency Services Unit shot Washington with a taser and a firearm as they responded to a call for help from Washington’s family and personnel from Jersey City Medical Center. They say Washington attacked the officers with a kitchen knife after they forced open his apartment door. The family had called for help, they say, out of concern for Washington, who had suffered for years from mental illness.

In a press conference on Monday, Mayor Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea said that body cam video will reveal that the officers were legally justified in using deadly physical force. The mayor called on the Attorney General to release the footage expeditiously.

Speakers at last night’s vigil were hearing none if it. Washington posed no threat they said.

“He was no danger to anyone” said his mother in a written statement read by Washington’s cousin, Wesley Hall.

“We followed every protocol..we called the crisis center…we told every police officer..he is not a danger to you. We pleaded with them to let us just talk to defuse and intervene” said his aunt, Doris Toni Ervin.

Said Pastor Dianne Lewis of Trinity Lutheran Church “We will not accept the perception that people suffering with mental illness  are violent and dangerous. That’s the police story. That’s not Drew’s story. He has not a violent or dangerous bone in his body.”

Many speakers said that the police had dehumanized Washington, making the use of force more likely, if not inevitable.

“They didn’t believe that Drew was significant, that he was loved and that he came from a community that would be able to mount the resources and determination to hold them accountable for what they did” said Wesley Hall.

Another cousin, Tony Perkins, touched on the same theme. “Drew was not only my cousin, he was a human being whose life had worth, whose mental illness needed sensitive handling, not a death sentence.”

A speaker from The People’s New Black Panther Party ascribed Washington’s death to racism. Alluding to the 2015 killing of nine African Americans during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston, he noted that Dylann Roof was arrested peacefully. “The police know how to baby one of their own when they murder our brothers and sisters in the church.”

Some of the speakers called out the mayor. “I want people to know the way the mayor of Jersey City described my son as violent” wrote Washington’s mother.

To Perkins, the mayor represented an attitude held by some. “To them that person is not a brother, they’re not a son, not a cousin. They are a speed bump on the road to the governorship.”

“The mayor calls this killing justifiable. There’s nothing justifiable about ignorance paired with deadly force. There’s nothing justifiable about barging into a mentally ill person’s home unprepared and untrained, only to silence their struggles forever with a bullet.”

The mayor didn’t care about people like Washington, said Wesley Hall. “I know what it looks like when mayor Fulop cares about something because I see how quickly those towers go up.”

Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore accepted blame for not pushing harder to implement a mental health crisis intervention program approved by the city council in 2022. “This is an epic failure on behalf of all of us. I take responsibility, the council needs to take responsibility and more importantly, the mayor needs to take responsibility.”

Many speakers wanted to reminisce about Washington. Washington’s mother described her son as “passionate and so charming. He was brave and strong.” He was, she said, “a man I’m so proud to call my son.”

“He was a great spirit, a kind heart, every person who knew him loved him, his neighbors loved him…he was such a joy” said Ervin.

Speakers described Washington as charismatic and funny. “Drew was such a comedian.  Everyone had funny stories about Drew” said Irvin.

She also noted that he had played on the storied St. Anthony’s High School basketball team.

Some of those who spoke, like Pastor Lewis, expressed the hope that prayer combined with action might bring some solace. “Lord we are angry. Let us change our anger to justice for our beloved Drew” she said. “Let us pray for the Jersey City Police Department and Lord I ask that you might put in their hearts to confess what is right.”

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....