A New Jersey trooper is suing after he claims he was booted by State Police over a social media post promoting T-shirts featuring images of Joanne Chesimard — better known as Assata Shakur.
The trooper, Nyron Harris, called the post an “honest mistake,” but that’s done little to quell the outrage of current and former members of the division, NJ.com reported.
In his December lawsuit, Harris alleges his firing was racially motivated and that superiors drummed up the smallest of infractions to keep him off the statewide force. White troopers, he argued, were accused of “far worse behavior,” yet were allowed to keep their jobs.
The post in question was shared on Harris’ personal Instagram page in September 2016 and featured “Black Excellence” T-shirts from his cousin’s clothing line, according to the news site. The N.J. trooper said he was only trying to help promote his cousin’s business, so he posted a photo of one of the shirts adorned with black-and-white portraits of Black female leaders like Maya Angelou and Harriet Tubman. Shakur, who was convicted in the murder of a trooper in 1973, is also featured on the shirt.
Harris’ attorney, George Daggett, said his client didn’t know Shakur was pictured on the t-shirt. It features a grid of nine portraits honoring the prominent Black women, but doesn’t identify them by name, he said.
For many N.J. state troopers, Shakur’s image serves as a vivid reminder of the deadly shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that killed Trooper Werner Foerster. Shakur, who escaped prison following her 1973 conviction, has always maintained her innocence in the shooting, once saying, “I know [the trial] was racist. You convicted a woman who had her hands in the air, who is innocent.”
She now lives under political asylum in Cuba.
Harris’ post sparked an internal investigation, NJ.com reported, the details of which were later shared to a private Facebook group run by retired state troopers. Posts in the group reviewed by the news site showed members conspiring against Harris to get him fired for the photo he shared.
“One could go on the AG website and file a complaint anonymously using a false e-mail address,” one user wrote in a post.
William Ames, a retired trooper, told NJ.com, “We feel confident in stating that the NJ State Police is a better organization for removing this poor excuse for a human being,” adding that anyone who knew the dark details of Foerster’s murder would understand why Harris was barred from reenlisting.
Black clergy members and community leaders have since urged the head of the State Police to reverse their decision and reinstate Harris. They also recommended that the department reevaluate how its internal investigations are handled.
Some feel Harris may not be totally in the clear oifhe does end up getting his job back, however.
“Nyron should be reinstated, offered his job back,” Bishop Jethro James, a local pastor and chaplain for the Stat Police said. “… But what would really happen to him with that culture being there?”