“I cant breathe!” shouted more than a thousand Jersey City residents from across the community, echoing the haunting last words of George Floyd at a protest at city hall organized by the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition on June 2.
The protest against police brutality and racism comes in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and back on May 25. The officer is facing criminal charges for Floyd’s death by asphyxiation.
More than a dozen officers lined the steps of city hall, some in riot gear, while others watched the crowd from the balcony above the steps.
“The time for decisive action is now,” said Executive Director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Pamela Johnson. “Unchecked police oversight has led to years of mistrust from the community, and we have now reached the moment where changes must be made. The horrific murder of George Floyd has placed the spotlight on the lack of police oversight in our country, and it is our responsibility as a community to do better.”
She and other community organizers made three demands of the Jersey City administration during the rally in an open letter to the mayor, city council, police chief, and public safety director which would “lead us in the right direction.”
The letter, signed by 23 organizations and CEOs, called for the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board which would help hold officers accountable and would build trust between the community and the police department. It would also create a procedural for the community to meet with the leaders and officers of the JCPD on a regular basis to help ensure the quality of community policing in Jersey City.
It also called for the release of body cam footage and updates on the investigation into the May 5 incident on Bostwick Avenue in which police officers used pepper spray and an extendable baton on citizens when reportedly breaking up a fight.
“Residents have been traumatized due to violence from police and to heal we need to address these matters,” said Johnson. “We cannot move forward without resolving the past.”
Residents called for the end of institutionalized racism holding signs which read “Black Lives Matter!” “Justice for George Floyd” and “End police brutality.”
Speakers urged protesters to not let their activism end with the protest but to reach out to local and state legislators and demand change.
Protesters knelt for nine minutes, the same length of time in which Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd had lost consciousness.
President of the Jersey City Chapter of the NAACP Rev. Nathaniel Legay said that it is easier for residents to stand up to racism and police brutality when it’s not in their own backyard.
“It’s easy for us to talk about New York, and it’s easy for us to talk about Georgia,” said Legay. “But know that there are folks here in Jersey City with a knee on top of your necks, and they will not move.”
He challenged white residents to speak up stating, “White silence is violence.”
The crowd applauded when several Jersey City Police Officers knelt in solidarity with the crowd in a show of unity.
Several protesters continued to kneel, shouting at the officers who did not, to do so.
Many remained protesting at city hall well after the protest had officially ended continuing to shout “No justice! No peace! No racist police!” “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!” and George Floyd’s name.