An emergency Bayonne Board of Education meeting was held on June 2 at 9 a.m. to address comments made by one of its members. Trustee Michael Alonso has sparked controversy after a social media post that many view as racist and an incitement to violence.
He posted on Facebook regarding the demonstrations occurring across the country protesting the death of George Floyd.
Floyd was an unarmed African-American man who was killed in Minneapolis when police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd was later pronounced dead. Chauvin has since been fired and charged with murder and manslaughter.
A screenshot of the post has been circulating on social media. However, it no longer appears on Alonso’s page.
“Where will the Bayonne Riot Start? Walmart- QuickChek- Shoprite?” Alonso said.
In another post, Alonso shares a political cartoon of Joe Biden changing a “Black Lives Matter Sign” to “Black Votes Matter.” It has since been taken down.
Most of the Board of Education was present at the meeting in-person, except Trustee Ava Finnerty and Alonso himself.
Prior to the start of the meeting, Trustee Joseph Broderick asked Rev. Dorothy Patterson of Wallace Temple AME Zion Church in Bayonne to lead everyone in prayer.
“Will you bring us to place of peace, oh God, and not hatred?” Rev. Patterson said in her prayer.
Residents in uproar
Before the board addressed the issue, president of the Bayonne’s Teachers Association Gene Woods spoke vehemently against Trustee Alonso’s comments at the meeting.
“I pity him for what he believes,” Woods said, stressing that Alonso needs to be “reeducated.”
Woods said that Alonso was in violation of school board policy and the school ethics act for his post as well as “past racist posts.”
“We find Mr. Alonso’s post racist, inciting riot behavior, and inappropriate,” Woods said, calling on Alonso to resign.
Two residents also submitted written comment to the board secretary who read the comments aloud at the meeting.
“As taxpayer, I feel Alonso doesn’t not have the ability to make decisions that positively impact our school district,” Gina Pirazzari wrote.
Another resident, Carolyn Schultz, said that this was not the first time he has posted a racial slur or comment on social media, violating board member use of social networks.
To ensure this type of behavior never happens again, Schultz suggested cultural training for school board members.
Outrage across the board
Afterwards, the board voted to adopt a resolution condemning the killing of George Floyd as well as Alonso’s racist comments.
Before voting in favor of the resolution, Trustee Broderick said that Alonso only caused more problems than any good he thought he might have been doing. He iterated the need for more classes and greater education on racial issues.
Trustee Lisa Burke said that Alonso doesn’t have the best interest for the community and thinks he should be removed.
“We should be doing all we can to pull our community together, not insinuating or inciting any kind of violence,” Burke said.
Trustee Jodi Casais, who spoke out against the post initially on social media, urged residents to vote Alonso out in November.
“If I said I was shocked and appalled at his posts, I’d be lying,” Casais said, adding that this was predictable behavior from Alonso.
Trustee Jan Patrick Egan said that the community has to teach love and respect to its children, not division and hate.
Egan said that Alonso’s absence from the emergency meeting regarding his comments speaks volumes about the situation, declining to call on Alonso to resign out of respect to voters.
Vice President Christopher Munoz said he would no longer refer to Alonso as Trustee Alonso. Munoz said that through the posts, Alonso has lost the privilege and honor to be called a Trustee of the Board of Education.
Voting in favor of the resolution, Munoz said that Alonso doesn’t have best interest of Bayonne’s children or the city at heart.
“We are family and I think Alonso violated that trust,” Munoz said. “I am demanding, not asking, for his resignation.”
Last to speak was President Maria Valado who agreed with all the comments by other trustees, adding that board members must be held to a higher standard.
“As elected officials we are charged with a duty of safeguarding and protecting the minds and bodies of the most vulnerable in our society: our children,” Valado said, calling for Alonso’s resignation. “Step aside. There are others in our community who are so willing and able to stand up and protect our children.”
Before voting in favor of the resolution, Valado added that the board is supposed to represent the community and that these comments don’t do that.
A righteous ultimatum
Rev. Patterson thanked the board for holding the emergency meeting to show that the issue is important, but ultimately questioned the point of such meeting if the board was not going to implement any change.
Beginning with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech on the work that needs to be done in terms of race relations, Rev. Patterson said that we are still dealing with the evils of racism today.
Having heard what everyone said, Rev. Patterson made it clear that she and all Black Americans have a right to be angry.
“If you allow him to stay on this board, you have now put a knee on the neck of every African American in this city,” Rev. Patterson said.
She challenged the board to go beyond what they were told was possible and remove Alonso, doing not just the right thing but also what she said was the righteous thing to do.
“I came here today hoping I can leave here and breathe,” Patterson said of the figurative knee being held on her neck by Alonso remaining on the board.
Rev. Patterson also urged all board members and other staff present to be front and center at any protests in Bayonne.
“If you’re not walking with us, you’re standing somewhere against us,” Rev. Patterson said. “We are #BayonneStrong. But if we are wrong on this, we will be #BayonneWrong forever.”
Ethics complaints ahead
However, Patterson’s pleas to remove Alonso fell on deaf ears, prompting Woods to return to the podium.
Woods began questioning what can be done, as any member of the BTA would be removed under the social media acceptable use policy if they posted anything of the sort.
Woods added he would not only walk with protestors if they marched in Bayonne, but would also become an “agitator” at every corner if Alonso doesn’t resign or won’t be removed.
“He cannot remain, we must come together and decide what to do to get him removed,” Woods said.
Trustee Dennis Wilbeck then interjected, adding that while it’s almost impossible for the board to remove Alonso here, an ethics charge can be brought against him.
However, due to COVID-19, the Dept. of Education would probably not be able to review the case until November. In which case, the easier solution may be to have voters speak their minds at the polls also in November, as Alonso is up for re-election this year.
Rev. Patterson underscored that something needs to happen now, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Valado, agreed with Rev Patterson, in turn suggesting residents file ethics complaints against Alonso.
“Ethics complaints can be filed and everyone in the community should,” Valado said. “One ethics complaint sends a message, 100 complaints send and even louder message.”
Breaking into tears, President Valado expressed her daily thoughts about what must be going through her students’ heads, many of whom are African American. At the end of the meeting, Valado vowed to march with any protestors in Bayonne.
“When we have a protest, I am with you. We are with you walking, right at the front,” Valado said. “It’s time to end the social injustice in our nation.”
Despite his absence from the meeting, Alonso addressed the controversy in a statement to The Bayonne Community News.
“My post was about Bayonne’s economic viability; an intellectual discussion on why we won’t have looting since we don’t have any stores,” Alonso said.
According to Alonso, people in the city have been complaining for years about no stores to shop in. Alonso also clarified that he only advocates for peaceful protest.
“I am an advocate of peaceful protest, but rioting and looting should not be tolerated,” Alonso continued, iterating his support for President Trump. “No one is thinking about keeping our kids safe. They are just thinking about their re-election.”
In addition, Alonso outlined his support for a city-wide protest including board members.
“We should all protest together, the board; the kids, teachers, parents, the police and the mayor!” Alonso said.
Alonso does not plan to resign from the Board of Education, leaving it up to the voters to decide in November.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.