CAMDEN, NJ — Camden police officers manning the grill, keeping steady for colorful face paint and posing for selfies with residents.
These sights further drove the police chief’s point home for those gathered Saturday.
“If we're not engaged with the community when it's not an emergency situation, if the first time we're meeting you is when you dial 911 and you're in crisis, we're not doing our job,” Chief Joe Wysocki said to a crowd gathered in front of the police administration building in downtown.
Nearly a month has elapsed since the tragic murder of 46-year-old George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer, who kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes until he died.
Floyd’s death continues to prompt protests countrywide — one of which in the city of Camden sparked national media attention leading to the department’s 2013 reboot and deescalation tactics. Some in the city have challenged the notion that the police department is a model worth following, clarifying the way in which the force’s replacement happened and saying community activists deserve more credit for their contributions during the transition.
School Board President Wasim Muhammad said however you want to classify it, the city is a safer place to live.
“Camden is a model [over] how to police communities of black and brown people,” Muhammad said during the event hosted by the Annointed News Journal. “But no, we’re not saying everything is perfect.”
A Noon press conference was attended by Councilman Angel Fuentes, Freeholders Jeff Nash and Jonathan Young, Captain Zsakhiem James, Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson. It was followed by musical and multi-cultural performances by Dwayne Davis on the saxophone, a live band, Curtis Blain of C&B Productions, Yocontalie “Connie” Jackson and Frank Greene Music.
The crowd then joined in a unity march to the CAMcare parking lot — with COVID-19 tested offered nearby.
Anointed News Journal Founder and CEO, Rev. Chris Collins of Camden, discussed former President Barack Obama’s visit to the city in 2015.
“Obama gave a prophetic word. He said I'm going to do something this day that I may never have done in the past, today I hold Camden, New Jersey as a symbol of promise for the nation….the march of solidarity [at the end of May], on that day the prophecy of President Barack Obama came true.”
It’s important for Muhammad, Wilson, and others, “to have a seat at the table to bring more people along with us to make sure that this fight doesn't end, to make sure we could truly equal and that's all we want,” Young said to applause.
In a poignant moment, he said it was impossible for someone who is not black to step into his shoes.
“When I ride down the street and a cop pulls out behind me, my heart drops,” Young said, “When that cop passes me because he has nothing to do with me, it takes about a half an hour from my heart to calm down.”
The freeholder closed by stressing that progress doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to be done.