ROSELLE, NJ — Protests continue across America, and on June 14 Roselle held its own Black Lives Matter protest. The rally drew many from across town to Warinanco Park as the unrest continues following the killing of George Floyd in late May.
It may have been weeks since Floyd’s death, but people across America are showing that the outrage will not die down this time, especially as another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was shot to death by police in Atlanta, Ga., on June 13, just the day before Roselle’s protest. Demonstrators across the nation are working to force a change in how police treat black people, as well as systemic racism in general.
“Today, the Union County Black Leadership Caucus and the Union County Interfaith Council are hosting a demonstration and rally in support of Black Lives Matter and those who have been victims of police and law enforcement violence,” Union County Freeholder Rebecca Williams said at the protest. “I’m very happy to be here at today’s event because, as elected officials, we want to show that we are fully in support and that we do believe black lives matter. We of course are black lives so that’s kind of where our heart is. This is not meant to be a political event. It’s an event for the community, and we’ve called on people from all over Union County’s 21 municipalities to be a part.”
State Sen. Joseph Cryan, who represents the 20th Legislative District, affirmed his belief in the power of unity.
“This is a rally to bring together folks, as well as a march and protest, as we look for common ground to work together as a community to not only enhance law enforcement but to enhance community relations and make sure that everyone is treated fairly in our processes,” Cryan said at the protest, adding that he admired the event’s atmosphere. “I feel excited about it. Everyone has come together. There’s a great atmosphere of folks who want to work together and folks who are looking for solutions.”
New Jersey chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives President Jiles Ship said he views the response to this crisis as long overdue.
“It’s a rally here to bring attention to an overdue issue dealing with systemic racism and policing,” Ship said on June 14. “I think the event is great because this is what we need. It’s overdue and we all have to come to the table to devise solutions that are not only sensitive to the community but also, we have to really look at what we’re doing in law enforcement and take every step we can take to do it better.”
Assemblyman Jamel Holley, the event’s coordinator, delved into the importance of breaking systemic barriers.
“I’ve been to several rallies throughout the state of New Jersey in recognition and highlighting the injustice that black men and women have suffered over decades,” Holley said. “To all of you who are out here, we are marching peacefully for justice. Where there’s no justice, there is no peace. We are here today to fight for justice and keep peace, but it’s going to take all of us to take legislative action next. People always ask, ‘What do we do next?’ Well we have to break the systematic barriers that have been put against us. I’m proud to be joined by so many elected officials here today.”
Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage discussed racism in his speech, highlighting the long history of mistreatment of black people in this country — even since before the United States of America was founded.
“I often think back to a conversation I had with my daughter when she was in the fourth grade and today she’s 20 going to college,” Bollwage said on June 14. “We talked about racism in the fourth grade when she started to develop friends who did not look like her. She’d get questioned by other friends, and she came home one day, and I said ‘Jacqueline, let me tell you that no one is born with racism or hatred in their hearts. It is something that is evolved and is taught. We’re not born with it.’
“So, therefore, when we create a system where racism and hatred dominate the streets and dominate a system, we can change that through education,” he continued. “The rallies and the protests are easy. The change is hard because it’s somehow taught into people that we should dislike or hate those who don’t look like us or those who act different or preach to a different God or love someone that you may not love. How can we change that system? In our hearts is the only way we can change it.”
Bollwage also cited the inequity faced by black people every day in this country.
“When I drive down the Parkway or the Turnpike and Jamel drives down the Parkway or the Turnpike, it’s more likely for him to be pulled over than it’ll be for me to be pulled over,” Bollwage said. “That has to change, because that was taught. That wasn’t something that people were born with.”
Interrupting Bollwage’s speech was a passionate protestor who, to everyone’s surprise, charged through the crowd to get to Bollwage.
“You can’t just talk! What are you going to do about it?” the unknown man screamed after being stopped from getting close to Bollwage. “Too many people are dying in the streets to play these games. Black people are dying. Black Lives Matter.”
In her speech, Rahway–NAACP President Quanae Palmer Chambliss addressed the protester’s anger.
“To my brother in the back, I promise you I didn’t come for no kumbaya,” Chambliss said at the protest. “Not at all. I came here to speak truth to power and everybody who’s here who knows me knows I do not stand down in the face of anyone. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your title is. I don’t care who you can anoint, I don’t care who you can retaliate against, because enough is enough. I’m not here to play games. I don’t want your votes. I’m not a politician. I’m not built to be one, because, if you talk stupid or act dumb, I’m coming for you. Since we can’t do that as politicians, politics is not for me. I’m better playing hard on the outside.”
Invited to the event was special guest Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, whose death ignited protests in 2014 after he was killed by police in New York City.
“I thank each and every one of you who came out today,” Carr said on June 14. “We need you. I need you. All the mothers need you, and we need to save your sons, your grandsons, the unborn. Let me ask you a question. Are you in a moment or in a movement? If you are in a moment, a moment is spontaneous.
“We get mad, we march, we scream, we holler and then we go back to our regular lives. That’s a moment,” she continued. “A movement is strategic. After the moment is over, we continue. We continue with what’s next. All of the marching, the screaming, all of that is not going to get justice. The marching is to get attention that there is a problem, and you know we do have a huge problem here in the United States, and we have to address that problem.”
Garner, who was killed after being held in a choke hold by New York police, was the first to wake up the world by yelling, “I can’t breathe,” a panicked phrase repeated by Floyd as he too was killed by police officers.
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman