PATERSON - Hundreds of mourners paid tribute to Najee Seabrooks on Saturday morning at a funeral for the 31-year-old man whom activists hailed as a peacemaker killed by gunfire from Paterson police after a lengthy standoff.
"Justice for Najee," onlookers chanted as pallbearers hoisted Seabrooks' black coffin through the open glass door of a wooden, horse-drawn hearse for the procession from the church to the cemetery.
Seabrooks' death has shaken Paterson for two weeks with protests of anger and outrage, but during Saturday's services, people mostly set aside their sour feelings and focused on the legacy of Seabrooks' work to stop street violence in a city plagued by shootings.
"Najee, he had the community in his heart," said Rahshon Dixon during the funeral at Christian Fellowship Center on Van Houten Street. "He really wanted to make a difference."
"We ain't going to lose you in vain," said another funeral speaker, Quan Hargrove. "We still got work to do. We got lives to change."
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'Paterson lost a king'
Dixon and Hargrove are part of the Paterson Healing Collective violence intervention organization that embraced Seabrooks when he was one of five victims in a non-fatal drive-by shooting in March 2021. Seabrooks became part of the Healing Collective's community efforts and ended up being hired by the group.
That's how Cortea Aken said she met him, less than a year ago.
"He always had such a pleasant spirit when you came across him," said Akens, as she walked to the funeral.
Akens described Seabrooks as generous and kind, noting that a few months ago he had bought Jordan-brand sneakers for her grandsons. "Paterson lost a king," she said.
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Some mourners wore shirts emblazoned with Seabrooks' image, photos showing the young man flashing his infectious smile. Others were dressed all in black.
"It just a sad day all the way around, for everyone," said community activist Roger Grier, part of the Paterson Cares group. "I don't think you get over it."
Greg Farrar of Paterson's Humble Beginnings and Real Men Stand Up organizations said Seabrooks' death caused deep pain among city residents.
"Paterson is hurting," Farrar said. "We need some stuff."
Seabrooks in an interview two years ago talked about how basketball led him out of trouble when he was a teenager growing up in Paterson. Among those at the wake was Juan Griles, his former head coach from Eastside High School. They had teamed up to bring the Eastside Ghosts a state championship and the center from that team, Kyre Jackson, was listed among Seabrooks' pallbearers on Saturday.
"It's not really a feeling, it's more of an emptiness," Griles said of his former player's death.
The coach said he and Seabrooks were part of a contingent of Ghost players who went down to Georgia last summer for Jackson's wedding. Griles said the two of them crossed paths often through Seabrooks' Healing Collective work and his own teaching job at Alonzo "Tambua" Moody Academy for Social Change, a Paterson alternative high school for teens with behavior problems. The man after whom that school is named, Alonzo "Tambua" Moody, was among the mourners at Saturday's funeral.
"He was like family, that's what he was," Griles said of Seabrooks.
Seabrooks' obituary said he graduated with an associate degree from Ventura College in California and was the father of a young daughter named Sofia. "He loved her more than anything and would do all he could to make sure she was taken care of," the obituary says.
His daughter was one of the topics raised by police negotiators in the nearly five-hour-long standoff on March 3 that ended in his death. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Thursday released seven 911 call recordings and almost four hours of videos from police body cameras.
Paranoid and agitated, Seabrooks had made the emergency call that brought police officers to his brother's Mill Street home, where he was locked in the bathroom with knives. As police talked about bringing him to his mother, Seabrooks charged from the bathroom holding a raised knife and was fatally shot by two officers who are members of Paterson's equivalent of a SWAT team.
The Attorney General's Office has said that the investigation of the shooting remains open. Police union officials have asserted that the video prove the officers did nothing wrong.
But activists argue the police should have never used lethal force on a man going through a mental crisis. Authorities have not revealed details of that crisis, but an emergency responder said at the scene in a conversation recorded by a body camera that he may have ingested illegal drugs that caused him to flip out.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Najee Seabrooks, killed in Paterson police shooting, laid to rest