Atlantic City, New Jersey, has long been regaled as the “world’s playground,” where sun, surf, sand, eager tourists and anxious gamblers meet.
Yet it is also, Black residents who for decades have alleged, a haven for rampant police brutality and excessive force. Over time, scores of African-Americans have charged that city officials have consistently ignored police violence. Much, if not most of it, they insist, is aimed at Blacks, particularly younger men.
Unlike previous instances of alleged brutality and misconduct, however, the January 27 beating of a Black teen and his librarian mother’s calm, yet fearless response, has galvanized citywide action, outrage and continuing demands for police accountability and systemic reforms with the city’s department.
The teen, Trent Brewer, Jr., 15, according to his mother and independent eye-witnesses who testified before the Atlantic City City Council, was beaten mercilessly by four plainclothes police officers. A quiet youth, he has never committed a crime nor ever been accused of any.
Brewer, whose left eye was dislodged from its socket and permanently damaged by the beating, has endured two long surgeries by specialists in Philadelphia. Others will be necessary, but cannot repair the permanent damage Brewer has suffered said his mother, Andrea Gray.
Brewer, along with two other Black youth and his step-father, were walking toward an Atlantic City convenience store when a plainclothes policeman got out of an unmarked vehicle and approached them. “Who are you?” young Brewer asked. “I’ll show you who I am,” the officer reportedly responded, then punched the youth.
The other three police officers riding with the alleged assailant, according to Gray, joined the lead officer in attacking Brewer. All four took turns kicking and stomping Brewer, Gray said.
Gray responded to the beating, which officials first claimed was caused by Brewer’s allegedly having “resisted arrest” by contacting civil rights activists through Policeabuse.com, a website devoted to ending police brutality and educating the public to combat it.
Established by Diop Kamali, a former Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Deputy whose father served in that department before him, Policeabuse.com has been operational since 2000.
He and Gray, a soft spoken librarian in neighboring Pleasantville, are being represented by a prominent Moorestown, New Jersey, attorney, William Buckman.
Respected throughout the state for large judgments won in civil rights cases, Buckman said that he will file a suit on behalf of Brewer and Gray in federal court this month.
The beating and the series of vocal protests it triggered at City Hall, organized by Gray and civil rights advocate Terrence Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer, have drawn consistent coverage by The Press of Atlantic City, News 4 and News 1.
That combination of sustained activism, widespread demands for justice and on-going news coverage, apparently drove elected officials to create the city’s first-ever police civilian review board, which they announced May 24.