2021 07 07-e lee-mount laurel nj essex place-racist neighbor

Essex Place condominium complex in Mount Laurel, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The three NAACP chapters in Burlington County, New Jersey, are collaborating on a survey asking residents about their experience with local police departments.

The Southern Burlington County, Willingboro, and Delaware Valley chapters created the survey in the wake of the July 5 protest outside of Edward Cagney Matthews’ Mt. Laurel home. Protesters gathered in response to Matthews’ viral racist rant against a Black neighbor. Several residents who spoke to WHYY News said the incident was only the most recent example of Matthews’ ongoing harassment.

“There was much discussion in the community about the involvement of police leading up to the incident with [Matthews,]” said Marcus Sibley, president of the Southern Burlington County NAACP, “where multiple incident reports have been made and this person was able to continue on his disrespectful treatment of Black residents for three years.”

Sibley said they were curious about the police involvement in Mt. Laurel and how police responded during the protest, when authorities took Matthews into custody. At first, the Southern Burlington chapter asked Mt. Laurel residents whether there was an “insufficient response” by the town’s police department when bias incidents were reported. In New Jersey, hate crimes are referred to as “bias intimidation.”

“From those conversations, we decided we need to get an accurate gauge about how the community feels about their experiences with police,” Sibley said. “We want all residents to give their true unimpacted feelings about their interactions with police in Burlington County.”

The survey is anonymous to allow people to speak freely, said Sibley. It asks respondents if they or someone they know has “ever been harassed, intimidated, followed or stopped unnecessarily by a Burlington County police officer.”

It also asks questions about police union involvement in the political process, the thin blue line flag, and whether there is interest in police alternatives like response teams for mental health crises. It further asks if respondents favor diverting funds from police budgets to fund such alternatives.

WHYY News has reached out to the Burlington County Police Chiefs Association, Burlington County Police Benevolent Association, and the Burlington County Fraternal Order of Police for comment.

More than 100 survey responses have been received so far. Sibley says the group wants to hear from as many people as possible by Sept. 30, so it can share the results with community leaders, elected officials, and political candidates to offer “the opportunity to make certain decisions going into the elections.”

Sibley hopes the efforts of the Burlington County chapters will be duplicated on a statewide level.

“Once we can do this on a statewide basis, we can really get some responses and we can really start using the data with our already ongoing efforts to be in the rooms that matter and influence legislation,” he said.

This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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