A protest against the killing of George Floyd by police officers went off peacefully in Bayonne on June 7.
Demonstrations have been erupting across the country in response to police brutality against African Americans, specifically the death of Floyd by police. 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. In response to mass demonstrations, Chauvin’s charges were upgraded and the other police officers on scene during the call have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder in the commission of a felony.
A protest and festivities in Floyd’s honor took place on Sunday at Stephen Gregg Park, also known as Hudson County Park. The protest, dubbed “Power in the Park,” was organized by the group Black in Bayonne.
Despite a sizable police presence, there was no tension between protesters and the police.
More than just a peaceful protest
The celebration began around 1 p.m. in the gazebo, where speakers from Black in Bayonne addressed the crowd. Music and poetry were also performed. Early in the day, coffee was provided, followed by a constant stream of water and pizza. Masks were required, and distributed to those who did not have one.
“Someone’s missing while a mother is yelling ‘Where’s my son?’” one of the poets said, paying homage to the many very young African Americans killed by police brutality, such as Trayvon Martin.
At 3 p.m., the protest began with a procession to the park stairs from the gazebo. Throughout the march, protesters chanted rallying cries against police brutality such as “George Floyd,” “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The march ended at the stairs, where a voter registration station was set up.
Protesters were encouraged to register to vote in November, and while he was not referenced by name, Board of Education Trustee Michael Alonso was called out as a reason to vote for change. Alonso sparked outrage after making Facebook posts about the Floyd protests that many residents consider racist and incitements to violence.
The Board of Ed has condemned the comments via resolution and urged residents to vote him out in November or file ethics complaints. Alonso, who doesn’t plan to resign, has said he is in favor of a peaceful protest.
“I am an advocate of peaceful protest, but rioting and looting should not be tolerated,” Alonso said. “We should all protest together, the board; the kids, teachers, parents, the police and the mayor!”
Seemingly in response to his comments, ShopRite boarded its windows on Friday.
After taking a short break, protesters took a knee for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. The goal was to protest the police brutality that claimed Floyd’s life when Officer Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Rallying as a community
The protest was also in honor of all the other lives that have been lost to police brutality and systemic racism.
After taking a knee, residents were allowed to take the microphone or megaphone to “air their grievances.” Some residents spoke about their experiences of police brutality while others explained how to be an ally to the movement. In general, the speeches were unifying in nature and spoke on ways to effect change.
“Nobody should be judged by the color of their skin,” a younger black resident said. “Get out and vote. If we can’t change our city, then we can’t change our county. If we can’t change our county, then we can’t change our state. And if we can’t change our state, we can’t change the country. Black Lives Matter!”
“The only way to make actual change is to commit to making this a lifelong struggle,” an elderly white resident said.
The overall message revolved around effecting direct change in the community, from encouraging residents to vote, as well as continuing to organize and protest, and to keep up the momentum against police brutality and systemic racism.
Speeches continued until around 6 p.m., when most of the crowd dispersed. However, some marched to city hall.
To march, or not to march
Mayor James Davis previously assured residents there was no march to city hall after a different social media post, separate from the Black in Bayonne flyer, called for a march down John F. Kennedy Blvd. to city hall on Ave. C.
Davis said he met with organizers who planned to have families and children present and was confident the event would be peaceful.
“We have seen social media posts that speak of a march toward City Hall, but the organizers assure us that there are no plans for a march or any activity outside the park,” Davis said. “The Bayonne Police Department has also been working with the organizers, and they are partnering to ensure this event will serve to honor Mr. Floyd in a peaceful and honorable way.”
The march to city hall, which was promoted by Black Lives Matter Bayonne on social media, saw protesters gather across the street. At city hall, police officers stood guard at the entrance and an armored truck and other police vehicles were parked nearby.
This smaller portion of protesters took a knee in front of city hall and encouraged more residents to meet across the street on Avenue C. Black Lives Matter Bayonne encouraged residents to drive by city hall and honk in support.
Prison buses were spotted in the area as the protest continued into the night. There were no clashes between protesters and police, and the protest dispersed by 8:30 p.m.
Local officials in attendance
Davis and City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski were among local elected officials spotted in the crowd at the rally.
“The killing of George Floyd should have never happened,” Davis said. “I’m not sure how any human being could have that little compassion for another human being.”
Davis watched the video of what happened to Floyd in Minnesota and said he felt anger and confusion.
“In Bayonne, we need to be cognizant of our diversity, and we must embrace it,” Davis said.
Prior to the protest, Davis said he wholeheartedly supported the demonstration and hoped other residents did as well.
“Bayonne is a close-knit city. We are made up of people from all over the world, and regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, we are one Bayonne,” Davis said. “I am confident that our community will make this a great day.”
Davis also noted that if any “outside people” came to disrupt the event, the Bayonne Police Department would “deal with them quickly.”
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.