BARNEGAT, NJ – Throughout the country, protests of outrage began after the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota. The world watched in horror as a policeman pressed down on Floyd’s neck even after he was robbed of his last breath. Sunday, members of the Barnegat community, clergy and the Barnegat Police Department will walk together bringing a message of solidarity.
Walter M. Brown, Jr. recently moved to Barnegat and organized what he refers to as the “walk for peace.” A 60-year-old black man, who grew up in Philadelphia and was a United States Marine, Brown currently serves as an Associate Minister of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank. Throughout his life, Brown has experienced his share of racism.
“People are so disconnected from what’s going on, “shared Brown. “I want everyone to know how people of color are feeling about all of this.”
Brown’s idea for a peaceful protest came as he returned from one of his daily walks on the Barnegat Branch Trail. As Brown headed to his home, he noticed a young white woman standing on the corner of Barnegat Boulevard and Route 9. She held a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.”
“As drivers passed her, they shouted out horrible things,” Brown said. “I think of this walk as opening up the meaning of “My Brother’s Keeper” combined with “I Can’t Breathe.”
Brown decided approaching members of local faith communities would enhance delivery of the message. Multiple pastors from Bayside Chapel, as well as the leaders of the United Methodist Church in Waretown have already committed to the walk. The Barnegat Police Department will have some members walking with the group. Other officers will be on hand to control traffic and keep the participants safe.
“Peaceful law-abiding expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment and as a nation we should protect it,” Barnegat Mayor John Novak stressed. “Our Barnegat Police Department demonstrates compassion and professionalism consistently. “
Truth be told, protests against racism aren’t new to Barnegat. According to news reports, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Barnegat in 1979. However, the 20 members who showed up were no match for the more than 200 counter-demonstrators calling for racial unity.
“One of the most important things we can do as police officers right now is to acknowledge emphatically that what happened to George Floyd is unacceptable and that those responsible need to be held accountable,” acknowledged Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain. “After that I think our job is to listen. Listen to our communities, listen to stakeholders, and listen to those whose experiences with law enforcement haven't been what we strive so hard to deliver here.”
Sunday’s June 7th solidarity walk begins at the Barnegat Little League Field on Barnegat Boulevard. Participants are expected to arrive between 12:30 pm and 1:00 pm. The peaceful demonstration ends at the gazebo in downtown Barnegat, where prayers and speakers are scheduled at 1:30 pm. The route from the Little League Field. down Route 9 to the gazebo will be blocked off during this short time period. Masks and social distancing are strongly recommended.