Jersey City residents came out in force last week to support Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige during the annual school board reorganization meeting.
Terrell-Paige came under scrutiny last month after posting to Facebook as a private citizen, calling Jewish people “brutes” and advocating more consideration of the motives of the perpetrators of the Dec. 10 domestic terrorist attack at the JC Kosher Supermarket.
Her post on Facebook was in response to a story on InsiderNJ about a recent gathering of religious and civic leaders who convened to address the growing tension between the African American and Jewish communities.
“Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the Jewish community?” she wrote in the since-deleted post. “They brazenly came on the property of Ward F Black homeowners and waved bags of money. Resistance was met with more threats of WE WILL BRING DRUG DEALERS AND PROSTITUTES TO LIVE NEXT DOOR TO YOU. YOU WILL SELL TO US THEN. Where was this faith and hope?…”
“’Mr. Anderson and Ms. Graham went directly to the kosher supermarket. I believe they knew they would come out in body bags. What is the message they were sending? Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message?'” she wrote.
Since the post, city and state officials including Governor Phil Murphy and Mayor Steven Fulop have called for her resignation from the board, dubbing the remarks as anti-Semitic. But at the school board meeting, over 20 members of the public spoke in her favor. One even called her the “Rosa Parks of this era.”
After the meeting last week, and the indictment of former board president Sudhan Thomas on bribery charges, Mayor Fulop proposed that the city council authorize a resolution posing a referendum question on the November general election ballot, asking voters if the Board of Education should be elected, or appointed by the city government as it once was. At press time, that issue had not yet been addressed by the council.
Solidarity and support
Many of the speakers during public comment defended Terrell-Paige’s right to free speech and agreed with her characterization of some members of the Jewish community as “brutes,” describing their attempts to purchase homes in the area as “aggressive.”
Monique K. Andrews, who lives a block from the Dec. 10 mass shooting location, said Terrell-Paige was only expressing what she knew about some Jewish people coming to the doors of local homeowners and using aggressive tactics to try to purchase their homes, which led the city to adopt a “no-knock” ordinance in 2017.
She held up a “no soliciting” sign that typically sits outside her house.
Resident Arnold Williams relayed the story of members of the Hasidic community attempting to purchase the home of his 92-year-old Greenville neighbor
“These same two members of the Hasidic community came to her house and demanded that she sell her property,” said Williams, noting that they had offered her condolences two days before after her husband’s passing. “Her husband’s gravesite hadn’t even settled, so their behavior as so suggested by Trustee Paige was brutes, there’s no getting around that.”
Darren Martin described Terrell-Paige as “the Rosa Parks of this era,” and said there seemed to be no outcry after the mayor made comments to the New York Times in 2017 calling those solicitations “very aggressive.”
“She has an impeccable record in this community. The anti-Semitic label is a bunch of crap, throw it away, and she’s not resigning,” said Martin.
Attorney Neal Brunson said Terrell-Paige’s post was not broadly targeting Jewish people.
“If I can put my lawyer’s hat on for a second, what Joan said, the literal meanings of what Joan said, were directly applicable not to a Jewish community, but to individuals of the Jewish community,” he said. “This is important because when you label someone anti-Semitic, you must do your homework.”
Many people cited her positive impact on Jersey City, noting she has fought for more special education resources in the public schools, played an important role to open the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center at 140 Martin Luther King Dr., and supported small and minority-owned businesses.
Several other speakers recalled remarks made by Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the chief rabbi of Israel, who in March 2018 allegedly called African-Americans “monkeys,” noting that he was not forced to resign.
Only one person spoke out against her comments. That was Snyder High School teacher Adam Schwartzbard, who calls himself a “proud Jew” and who has worked in the district for 15 years.
He said he found her comments hateful and divisive at a time where there have been many violent attacks against Jews in New Jersey and New York
“I pray that you also reflect on the pain that you caused people, myself and other Jewish people, both for the timing and for some of your words,” Schwartzbard said, “and for the message that it sends to our students, of divisiveness when we really need unity and peace.”
The following day, Anti-Semitism Accountability Project Founder Ronald Lauder issued a statement that said, “ASAP will deploy the resources necessary to make sure voters know about Ms. Terrell-Paige’s hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric and will do whatever is necessary to see that she steps down.”
“Violence targeting Jews—or any ethnic, racial, or religious minority—is abhorrent, yet instead of condemning these attacks, mourning with her community, and committing to fight violent anti-Semitism, Ms. Terrell-Paige is fanning the flames of hate,” he said.
None of the school board members commented on Terrell-Paige’s post.
They did, however, elect new leadership to the board and swear in newly elected officials.
Fulop swore in two of the five newly elected board members, Noemi Velazquez and Alexander Hamilton, then left the meeting shortly thereafter. Gina Verdibello, Lekendrick Shaw and Gerald Lyons were also sworn in.
Trustee Lorenzo Richardson became the board’s new president in an 8-0-1 vote after Trustee Mussab Ali nominated him. Shaw abstained.
Verdibello became the board new vice president in a 6-2-1 vote after she was nominated by Trustee Marilyn Roman.
Terrell-Paige and Velazquez voted no while Hamilton abstained.
For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.