BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ — Jim Baldassare, mayor of Bernards Township, Chief of Police Mike Shimsky and members of the Township Committee all have issued statements in reaction to the death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis and the rioting and unrest across the nation in the wake of Floyd's death.
"We are all reeling from the unfortunate and tragically appalling events that occurred in Minneapolis last week and the subsequent civil unrest that has been sparked around the country and state," Shimsky said. "Rest assured that the Bernards Township Police Department and Somerset County law enforcement community have always and will remain committed to protecting all citizen’s Constitutional rights to include peaceful assembly and demonstration. We must all remain united against violence and stand together for what is right."
Baldassare posted a statement on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
"I feel it's necessary that we address this accordingly so that our residents can understand that no one is turning a blind eye to what is happening across our nation," Baldassare said. "As the spouse of a police officer, both Tracy and myself were utterly disgusted and appalled to witness the unconscionable actions that led to the death of George Floyd. None of these actions have any place in our society for any of our citizens, regardless of race or color and we will never condone such activity when it occurs. The sooner we stop separating and dividing and collectively come together is when we will heal as a community and as a society. Our hearts go out to the family of George Floyd and his death is a terrible, unnecessary tragedy. I can also assure you that Bernards Township and our Police Department condemns any type of violence resulting from biases and/or racial profiling. The vast majority of our law enforcement community who upholds the rule of law on a daily basis are good people and we continue to support them for the thankless and extremely hard job they do. We continue to make Bernards Township a welcoming, friendly and neighborly community, and people of all races, cultures and faith are an important part in making that happen. This is something that will not change and we will continue to ensure that all of our residents are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."
Joan Bannan Harris, a member of the Township Committee, said, "In summing up my thoughts about the horrific treatment and tragic death of George Floyd, I won’t be spending too many words on those who chose to respond with violence and destruction of property. We all know that is wrong. We all watched it on our television screens. To focus on that, however, rather than address the cause of the spark that not only lead to the destruction of property, but took the life of a fellow human being seems to me to be missing the point and gravity of what we witnessed.
"We all witnessed Mr. Floyd’s death on our television screens. He died at the hands of police officers who were sworn to protect us. George Floyd is us. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, not only here in the US, but in other countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, Denmark, France, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, and Australia, in the midst of a pandemic, are so frustrated, angry and aggrieved by generations of racial and social injustice, they are taking to the streets to protest peacefully. These protestors are us. We need to listen to, rather than judge or defend. We need to act so this doesn’t happen again because Black lives do matter.
"In NJ, I am proud to say, our state government has been a leader in taking measures to combat racism and the use of excessive force. Police officers are required to undergo periodic de-escalation training as well as anti-racial profiling and bias training. Indeed, NJ has enacted legislation to make racial profiling a third-degree crime. There are also state mandated early warning policies in effect that allow police departments to identify and address potential issues with officers. Under the command of Chief Mike Shimsky, our police officers train in defensive tactics to ensure the minimal force necessary is used when there is a need to apprehend a suspect or defend themselves.
"We can do more, we must do more. We need to discuss and educate ourselves about the issue of racism and what we can do to eradicate it. We must elect leaders who want to listen rather than fan the flames of fear and division. A wound ignored and denied festers, it does not go away.
"I read a quote yesterday, 'If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope' and hope is what I am looking for. Rest in peace George Floyd."
Township Committeeman John Carpenter said, "The treatment of George Floyd at the hands of some members of the Minneapolis Police was unconscionable. His death was a tragedy. That tragedy is being compounded by a wave of pillage, arson, violence and death that rages nightly across the land. Every American has a right to express their outrage at the events surrounding Mr. Floyd’s treatment and death. No American has a right to engage in the havoc that we’ve witnessed for the last several nights. If Mayors and Governors don’t put an end to this nightly reign of terror now, Mr. Floyd’s death could take a back seat to the chaos of these days. That would be a tragedy too."
Bernards Deputy Mayor Joe Esposito, also a member of the Township Committee, said, "I am beyond saddened that we are again faced with the incomprehensible need to confirm a commitment for social justice, equality and an end to hatred. Yet, here we are. Martin Luther King once said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend." I remain steadfast in my commitment to spread only love, to convert those broken hearts that embrace hate. We are one human race; we are one America. To hate is an abomination to those universal truths."
Township Committee member Janice Fields said, "We see on our screens scenes of violence that tear at our hearts and at the very fabric of our nation. The loudest voices are those that call for greater division. These are voices to which we cannot and will not listen. It is only through the recognition of our shared humanity and that; as Dr. King put it, “we are all in the same boat now”, that justice and equality can be achieved. While I pray for all of those affected by these events, I ask all residents of Bernards to come together as you have before in times of crisis, to work toward the realization of what our community and our nation have the potential to be."
Baldassare added, "We are all united in the fight against hate and intolerance. Our collective efforts as a community, all of us, is what makes Bernards Township a wonderful and special place to live. These are clearly challenging times, and we all need to remember that we are in fact in this together. God bless you all and thank you."