SOMERSET, NJ – On Tuesday night, the Franklin Township Council passed a resolution condemning the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25. The resolution says the mayor, council and the township’s departmental leadership “in no uncertain terms condemn the actions that led to the death of Mr. George Floyd.” 

The killing of Floyd sparked national outrage with protests erupting across the country and spreading internationally. 

Before voting on the resolution – that was ultimately passed unanimously – Councilman James Vassenella asked that it be read in full. Following an emotional reading by Councilwoman Kimberly Francois, she paused and said she thinks the resolution is “very consistent with the philosophy of everyone here.” 

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“I haven’t said a whole lot about the whole situation because it’s really one of those things that you can’t even express in words the impact that had on communities and cities and countries around the world,” she said. 

The resolution reaffirms the council’s commitment to ensuring the township’s “elected leadership, department heads and appointed boards and committees reflect the fabric of the community-at-large, thus ensuring that the many voices that make up the one Franklin are represented.” 

This commitment to representation is often championed by Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt, who won her seat on the council in November after being appointed following Shanel Robinson’s election to the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders. 

“In January when I got sworn in I committed to work to dismantle systems of oppression and I’m still very much committed to that,” she said. “I think it’s really important to revisit in light of everything that’s going on.” 

“I can’t be sad and I can’t cry about it anymore. We are committed to doing whatever we need to do to support this community and support good policies that make our communities safe,” she said. 

Pruitt went on to say that the fight against institutional racism must be taken up by all, regardless of skin color or background.

“I do believe that Black lives matter and that all lives can’t matter until Black ones do to. And we can’t be free until every single one of us are,” she said.

Last week, hundreds rallied in Franklin to denounce the killing of George Floyd and protest systemic racism and police brutality in America. The two protests drew diverse crowds but was spearheaded by younger residents. Councilman Ted Chase, the council’s oldest member, made a point on Tuesday night to listen to these younger voices. 

“We support particularly the younger generation who are telling us how things ought to be better,” he said.

Mayor Phillip Kramer expressed a concern that people may move on from this moment without bringing out the change that protesters are calling for. 

“The thing that scares me most is that we see this time and time again,” he said. “There’s a shooting at a school or in Las Vegas and there’s a big commotion about it and then two weeks later we move on and forget all about it. That’s what scares me, that’s what worries me. The fact that this is overshadowing a world pandemic, as terrible as that is, gives me faith that this time this isn’t going to be forgotten, we can’t let it be forgotten.” 

Councilman Carl Wright thanked township police for working with protest organizers to coordinate and be flexible in managing traffic and safety concerns. 

“I want to thank them because they helped us a lot going down Franklin Boulevard and held up traffic on Easton Avenue and blocked traffic so we could do what we needed to do, which was to inform the people in cars and on the sidewalk. The neighborhood and the police know exactly what we’re thinking. I love our police department, it does a good job, but like any organization, it grows and changes.” 

One of the changes came at the end of April, with the township appointing Quovella Spruill as its first Black public safety director following the county prosecutor’s stewardship of the township’s police after the department’s two top cops resigned in July 2019. Former Chief Richard Grammar and former Capt Gregory Borlan left amid controversy surrounding the on-duty overdose of a township cop and an investigation by the country prosecutor’s office found abuse of a police time-off policy. 

Spruill isn’t just the first Black public safety director, she’s also the first to hold the newly created position. Following the retirement of Grammar and Borlan, the township moved to restructure the department by removing the position of chief of police and replaced it with a public safety director, a civilian position that oversees the administration of the police while an officer in charge serves as the ranking law enforcement officer. When the ordinance was passed in August 2019, the township said the restructuring would result in greater oversight and control of the day-to-day operations of the department by Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and the council. 

Vassenella said Tuesday that Spruill’s leadership is crucial in the township becoming what some council members hope will be a model for the rest of the country. 

“Our new director I think will lead us through what is obviously a difficult time and not just lead us through but make Franklin even better,” Vassenella said. “Hopefully we can be an example that other towns in this state and all over this country can look up to. Because our town is about diversity and diversity at its core only works if there’s justice and equality for all.” 

Chase also shared his concern that the “liberty and justice for all in the Pledge of Allegiance really hasn’t been fully realized for a lot of people in this country.” 

“I feel as an entitled white man I have not suffered the way some people have and I feel that I’ve tried to make things better. We have not always been perfect, but I think we’re trying to be as just and equal as we can be and I hope we can continue to be proud of our police force,” he said. 

Wright thanked Chase for his words, saying that “his comments said a whole lot and I want to thank you Dr. Chase for saying that because I think what you said is what people need to hear.”

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