CAMDEN, NJ — Woodrow Wilson High School. The Cooper — house, river and hospital. Statues of Christopher Columbus.
All were referenced Saturday before the Camden Historical Society — one of two stops for over 200 protestors decrying monuments that have come to symbolize hate and racism in the city, county and across the country.
“We’ve talked about this for a long time but finally the world is listening, and we say no to oppression, we say no to slavery, we say no to racism, we say no to political control over the people and suppressing their voice. We say no, no, no, no, no,” Pastor Ojii Baba Madi said to cheers.
It has been three weeks since the murder of George Floyd, 46, by a Minneapolis police officer, who kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Like elsewhere in New Jersey, peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations have not lost their intensity.
Starting at The Elks Lodge on the 1800 block of Mt. Ephraim Avenue, a dozen or so motorcycles led men, women and children holding signs and shouting: “Camden, Strong!” “What do we want? Justice!...and if we don’t get it? Shut it down!” and “Say His Name, George Floyd!” among others.
The march, organized by Rev. Levi Combs III of First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church, took shape around the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue at Farnham Park.
But this afternoon found the statue’s removal amid a myriad of other demands, including that police officers be required to keep their body cameras on at all times or face penalty and be subject to losing their pensions if they commit acts of brutality on civilians. Chants also broke out several times asking where Mayor Frank Moran and Camden County freeholders were.
Combs and volunteers stopped city workers when they attempted to remove the Christopher Columbus statue Thursday. They later broke it apart and guarded the remains until today’s march. The reverend said he received an apology from Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli regarding the removal prior to today's march.
“Let me be very clear. The fight isn't really with the police department. The fight is with the administration, with the policy-makers,” Combs said as he stood atop an empty mound where the statue once stood.
“Today you’ve got to write a letter to your police chief and say we want more minorities on the top tier of our police department,” he continued.
Camden County plans to remove all Christopher Columbus statues, Combs said. Moran also posted a video stating that the community would decide what would replace the statue at Farnham Park.
Several people led the call-and-respond throughout the march, but no one younger than 9-year-old Ryan Shambrey.
“I spoke up because I think this is important and I love Camden,” Shambrey told TAPinto Camden, as he protested with his grandmother Lynn Taylor. “This is where my family and friends are.”
At the corner of Kaighn and Haddon Avenue, the crowd stopped to take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd. A few members of the crowd couldn’t bear it and stood up, as Combs and others ticked off how much time had elapsed and voiced agony in the thought of having been killed in the manner Floyd was.
Protestors then headed to Farnham Park, where they joined police officers in raising their fists in support of justice for victims of police brutality.
“Today the police are murdering us, killing us...what happened to Floyd, it wasn't murder. It was a modern day lynching,” said Lawrence Hamm, chairman of People’s Organization for Progress and U.S. Senate candidate, who also organized a march in Newark. “The reason why people all across this country are in the streets, is because they saw it in real time.”
Warren Bethea, 58, walked in the march with his granddaughter.
“I came here because there’s a lot of ways Camden’s police department is being portrayed in the national media that I just don’t think is true,” said Bethea, who was born and raised in Camden. “It’s more complicated than they say. Police aren’t in the community as much as they should be, [for instance].”
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