Newark protestors mourn George Floyd, protest against systematic racism
Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Newark on Saturday, showing solidarity in the nationwide outcry against police brutality and to mourn the death of George Floyd.
Organized by the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) and other local organizations, participants assembled at the city’s Abraham Lincoln Monument and marched down to the City Hall to congregate for the rally, sending the message that they are united with those grieving in Minneapolis along with other major cities across the country.
Mayor Ras Baraka, who expressed his support of the protest by walking in front of all present, held a press conference earlier in the day to encourage the city to march in solidarity together.
“(POP has) been having protests in our city for decades, without incident, without issue, all of the time,” Baraka said. “I think … to have a rally is appropriate. In fact, people would’ve thought something was wrong if there wasn’t a rally to have.”
Floyd’s death ignited an incendiary response throughout Minnesota after footage of his arrest went viral. The video shows Floyd begging for police officer Derek Chauvin, who was kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes straight, to stop. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng were present but did not interject at any point. Since then, Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and all officers were fired.
Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” were reminiscent of the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a Black man who was held in a choke hold after being caught selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York City.
Some Minneapolis’ residents have rioted continually for six nights straight, all throughout last week, damaging and looting buildings such as a local Target and setting a police precinct aflame.
Baraka’s message also told the stories of lynchings that made national headlines in the last century, including the murder of Jesse Washington, an illiterate and mentally disabled Black teenager who was brutally tortured after falling victim to a coerced confession, forced by police officers, for the murder of an elderly white woman. He was lynched over a man-made fire in front of a crowd of 15,000 people. The point was to draw the connection throughout history of a law enforcement system made to target Black people and modern-day lynchings.
The rally began later in the afternoon at 1 p.m. Chairman Larry Hamm of the POP organized the crowd with a 15-minute call-and-response ceremony in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial.
“We stand here today in solidarity with our people in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who have been struggling against all odds. We hear you in Newark, New Jersey. We hear the innocent birth that cries out for justice,” Hamm said. “We are here today to express our righteous anger — it’s alright to be angry — don’t let anybody tell you to repress your anger. It’s unhealthy, they’re killing Black people like dogs in the street, we should be angry about it. But we are going to take our anger and our indignation, and turn it into energy to put together a force for the abolition of police brutality and the transformation of this country.”
Hamm also pointed out that in a country where Black people only comprise 13% of the population, they account for one-third out of the average 1,000 police brutality-related deaths per year. The city is currently involved in a state Supreme Court case against the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No.12 for the right of its Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to investigate any complaints made against police.
Newark’s CCRB was established in 2016 after a 2014 federal report showed Newark Police Department’s pattern of civil rights violations. Hamm advocated that each city should implement a CCRB to enforce accountability among local law enforcement.
Joining Hamm, Baraka reflected on Newark during his youth and the activism work of his father Amiri Baraka. Newark’s 1967 uprisings saw violence that was sparked due to the beating of John William Smith from police, a Black man and cab driver who later died from his injuries.
“Let me tell you something, my father was beat in 1967 in rebellion in the city of Newark. Every major city in America burned at least once or twice. Fifty years later, we still in the same situation, (due to) years of inhumane treatment of African-Americans in our city,” Baraka said.
The energy felt throughout the day was powerful and integrated. Among a diverse and inclusive collection of people, a great sense of unity left an empowering message. One that shows people are capable of coming together during times of strife.
Of course, those within the crowd carried their own strong opinions.
“I’m going to be a mother one day, and I’m going to have a son. For me to have to tell my son the things that my mother would tell me, when you come into this world you have three strikes before you’re out, and the first strike is being Black,” said Autom Paden, a 21-year-old student at Union County College. “But that’s the Black experience and nobody else can really understand that unless you’ve lived through it. And I love that all my people are out here fighting for what’s truly right, what they feel is good in their spirits, because this is wrong.”
Floyd’s death was a direct display of a system that subjugates people of color, specifically targeting those who are Black. While many examples were broadcasted to the media since Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, those are just the violent occasions that were actually filmed. Each year there are approximately 300 police brutality-related deaths that occur within the Black community, which makes the topic hit very close to home for many Black families whose stories were never publicized.
It’s a constant frustration and anxiety for Black families to think about possibly losing a family member on any given day. Or, become involved in a criminal case or lawsuit due to a family member’s unprovoked run-in with the law or an officer, in which there are situations that don’t always result in death and might not receive the same amount of mainstream attention, but still cause trauma nonetheless. Police brutality incidents that don’t always end in death are experiences the Black community also knows intimately.
“We were gathered together as a family, when I suddenly lost my brother in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He was found unresponsive, so my family naturally called 911 for help. That was the only reason why they were there, they had no other reason to be there,” said Wini Scott, 35 years old.
“They called for two rounds of back-up. They released a SWAT team of 20-something officers on a grieving family of seven. They made it all about themselves, they lied all over the police reports, (and) I was arrested because I wasn’t calming down. Because I was displaying signs of grief and it was offensive to them. My husband was arrested because he stepped back into the house. They terrorized us, they terrorize us and they catapulted our trauma. They made us look like the craziest bunch of Africans you would ever meet,” Scott said.
Scott’s story is obviously only one of many. The familiarity in her story resonates with Black people throughout the United States. Whether one has experienced it on an individual level, or witnessed the circumstances of another friend or loved one, it’s what drives the nation’s call for resilience and justice today.
“I feel as though the state of the country, the cultural climate that we’re currently in, is clearly a problem. We know that, that’s why we’re out here today. I feel as though it takes all people, from all ethnicities and origins, to come together and fight for the better good,” said Amira Jabbar, 20 years old, a member of a local community organization called Let’s Walk to Justice. “So many times, we’re so worried about fighting one another, that it takes so long to fight together. And so, seeing everybody out there today, it made me so happy.”
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