HACKENSACK, N.J. — It seemed every bit the quiet Saturday afternoon in Hackensack, with the sun shining down from blue skies — until a dozen people holding up signs marching single-file heading toward the Court Plaza made their presence known.

“I — CAN’T — BREATHE!” shouted a protester.

When he followed it up with, “Who matters?” His army of fellow demonstrators yelled back, “Black Lives Matter!”

Sign Up for Hackensack Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The chants came just five days after the Memorial Day slaying of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, mercilessly dug his left knee into his neck — 2 minutes and 53 seconds within telling the officer he couldn’t breathe while lying on the ground during an arrest, and then dying five minutes later.

On Saturday, while fiery protests erupted resulting in pandemonium and civil unrest in major cities throughout the country from Miami to Washington, D.C. to Chicago to Los Angeles, a peaceful demonstration was organized in the heart of Hackensack — all in the name of justice for George Floyd and contempt for police brutality.

Holding up cardboard signs reading “George Floyd,” “Police Accountability,” “I Can’t Breathe, Justice,” and “Civil Rights,” the group continued their repeated cries of, “No Justice, No Peace!” before making their way up to the top of the courthouse steps. 

“People want to be heard,” said one protester at the top of the stairs surrounded by fellow demonstrators who were holding their signs up high. “We must come together as a community, law enforcement, it’s really not that complicated.”

But it inevitably is. Floyd’s death is just as unfathomable as the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman. While Zimmerman was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge by a Florida jury and a verdict of not guilty after he claimed self-defense in 2013, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter the day prior to the protests. 

A video captured by an onlooker showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while his face is crushed against the pavement for 8 minutes in Powderhorn, an adjacent neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis in Minnesota. Floyd was arrested on May 25 after his alleged attempt to use a counterfeit bill in a deli. According to police, Floyd “physically resisted” after he was ordered to exit his vehicle. Surveillance footage from a nearby restaurant, however, counters these claims, as Floyd was shown repeatedly falling while he was escorted by officers. Criminal complaints, however, state that according to body cameras worn by the arresting officers, Floyd fell down intentionally and refused to stand still. 

While Floyd was on the ground, he is heard telling Chauvin in a video recorded by an onlooker on a smart phone device, “Don’t kill me.” “Please, I can’t breathe.”  
 
A federal civil rights investigation into the incident is underway among the Federal Bureau of Investigation.   

As violent protests continue to rage on throughout the country, with police cruisers set ablaze by angered demonstrators, peaceful protesters in the City of Hackensack Saturday said they didn’t wish to “promote aggression” as rubbernecking motorists honked at the group in a show of support. 

“There’s a yin and yang effect,” said the lead protester. “We hope and pray for good. That’s why we’re here.”