I am so proud of our Township and its demonstration of solidarity this past Sunday with a community of people who have suffered historic oppression that dates back hundreds of years and, sadly, continues to this day. The Berkeley Heights March for Black Lives on June 7 was easily the finest moment in recent Berkeley Heights history. So many young and old, individuals and families came out to march wearing masks to protect each other from a still-threatening disease. Many held passionate signs of support for people who have suffered from the stigma of racial bias that electing a black President does not simply wipe away. I was personally moved by the speeches voiced by young men and women sharing the reality of lives which regularly include race-based slights whether minor or possibly life-threatening that go unnoticed and unacknowledged by most of their neighbors and friends.
So it was with dismay and sadness that I read a Letter to the Editor in TAP entitled “It Isn't Automatically Racism” argue as part of its defense of aggressive policing that “..in 2019 there were 10 instances of unarmed blacks being killed by police. By contrast 20 unarmed whites were killed by police. There is no systemic racism.” These words brought home what those many speakers at the march articulated about their reality. They reminded me of arguments I have had with friends and co-workers about the persistence of racial bias everywhere. To suggest that racism does not exist because “only” 33% of unarmed people killed by police were black truly justifies our protest and the many mass protests that are taking place throughout our country and throughout the world. Black people in this country represent only 13% of the population. Yet, according to the NAACP, The Sentencing Project and Wikipedia, they represent 38% of the prison population in the country, are imprisoned 6 times as often as whites for drug charges, and represent 29% of those arrested for drug charges. Almost 50% of young black males are arrested by the time they are 23 years old. Imagine how hard it is to get a job with an arrest record. So it is disheartening to see this letter making the case for aggressive steps to curtail “the rioting, looting, and destruction of property and violence” without any recognition of the underlying causes of violence in protests. The writer doesn’t even acknowledge that the vast majority of protests and protesters are peaceful, that many of the protesters are families with children as we saw here in Berkeley Heights.
I have been reading Jill Lepore’s American history book These Truths which details the story of persistent racism in our country’s history and was pleased to see Benjamin Franklin quoted on a sign held by a young woman pictured in TAP that reads “Justice will not be served until those that are unaffected are as outraged as those that are.” I can’t help but feel that the level of outrage in Berkeley Heights remains insufficient. I urge everyone to follow the guidance we heard last Sunday and not do the minimum, don’t just “not be racist” but rather argue against racism and every evidence of it we see every time we see it.
Editor's Note: Alvaro Medeiros is an elected member of the Berkeley Heights Township Council.