NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – It wasn’t coincidence that Antoinette Moss chose the 281st anniversary of the Stono slave rebellion in South Carolina to gather 25 or so community leaders, clergy and others.
Nor was it chance that they were standing in Feaster Park, just a few hundred yards from where Barry Deloatch was shot and killed in 2011.
Moss, the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church on Montgomery Street in Highland Park, linked tragedies of the past to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubrey.
“In 2020, racial violence and abuse against Black people is still a threat,” Moss said Wednesday afternoon. “Driving while Black. Sleeping in your home while Black. Jogging while Black. Biking while Black. Shopping while Black. Even bird watching while Black. You have to wonder, what can we safely do being black in America?”
It is out of this backdrop of pain that the Black Community Watchline has been born.
By dialing 888-300-8105 at any time of the day or night, you will access a free and confidential resource to report and receive support in addressing anti-Black racial violence and abuse wherever it skulks – be it the board room, the court room, police headquarters or the streets.
Moss said the Watchline will always be manned by six dispatchers who are trained to send support if there’s immediate danger or point to resources in dealing with such things as police misconduct or tenant-landlord disputes.
And a database of reports will put the “watch” in “Watchline.” In other words, Black Community Watchline will be able to see trends that will allow it to keep law enforcement, legislators and others accountable.
“The Black Community Watchline is an effort to, within Middlesex County, do its part to confront … racist policies, racist police, racist institutions, racist industries,” said Phillip Dowdell, an attorney and Watchline leader. “This is not meant to say all police are racist, that all institutions are racist, that all industries are racist. But the thought process behind it – the undervaluing, the underestimating and marginalizing of Black people and marginalized groups - has to stop.”
Amiri Tulloch, a Rutgers student, said the Watchline would have provided valuable support in 2018 when he was seen taking photos one night by Highland Park police. Police surrounded his home and spoke with his mother, Monique Coleman, a member of the Highland Park Board of Education.
Tulloch was not charged and his mother said that her son had been a suspect in a recent string of robberies only because he is Black.
“One of the things that instance showed me was there is no avenue, there is no outlet for these conversation to happen and not only hold the police accountable but hold the institutions like people have been talking about as a whole accountable,” Tulloch said. “For me, the Black Community Watchline is a way for us to force critical questions about the role of police in our community.”
The press conference to announce the Watchline’s phone number was attended by Micah McCreary, president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, co-pastor of the Reformed Church in Highland Park, Bruce Morgan, president of the NAACP in New Brunswick, Rev. Kermit Moss, interim director of Black Church Studies at the Princeton Theological Seminary and Keith Jones II, chief of staff for New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill’s office.