HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Overcast skies and light rain didn't stop Friday's Black Lives Matter down the Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights on Friday afternoon.
People started showing up at Hasbrouck Heights High School at 2 p.m., well in advance of the 2:30 p.m. start time for the Black Lives Matter march in the borough. There were high school students and alumni, as well as residents from Hasbrouck Heights and surrounding towns like East Rutherford, Wallington, and Wood-Ridge. Also, among the early arrivals were the three Hasbrouck Heights Middle School students who planted the seed for the event.
Eighth graders Tala, Morgan, and Natalia discussed having a march, and "thought just only middle schoolers" would join them. A post on a private SnapChat story took off and the event ended up being posted on the county website, Tala explained. On Thursday, the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department reached out for additional information to assist in coordinating the event.
Unknowingly the students had gotten some help from Hasbrouck Heights alumni Anthony Palmer and his friends when they posted about the rally on their social media stories.
"We had to let people know about it," said Palmer.
Hasbrouck Heights Police Chief Michael Colaneri and Captain Joseph Rinke briefly addressed the marchers, letting them know the police were there to support them in a peaceful march.
"We all agree that the senseless death of George Floyd is tragic. Our hearts go out and our sympathies go out to his family, and we hope that by God he rest in peace," Hasbrouck Heights Mayor Jack DeLorenzo said to those assembled before the march. "I believe, as the Declaration of Independence states “that all men are created equal” and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. We recognize the right to assemble here today. We’re fortunate enough the that police department is here to cooperate. We just ask you to have your peaceful demonstration and be respectful."
A few minutes later the assembled crowd, which eventually grew to over 200 members, gathered on the Boulevard behind the Colaneri's vehicle and stepped off down the Boulevard headed toward the circle. Marchers carried handmade signs and chanted "Black Lives Matter," "No Justice, No Peace," "Say His Name," "Say Her Name,"and "I Can't Breathe" intertwined with the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, among others who died.
The group made it way down the Boulevard. Some residents watched and videoed the passing marchers from the sidewalk. Some business owners watched outside their shops. Councilmen Christopher Hillmann and Steven Reyngoudt marched. Councilman Ron Kistner joined Hasbrouck Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce president Ray Vorisek at his shop.
The marchers made their way around the circle and stopped between Henry and Raymond Streets. The group took a collective knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time George Floyd had a knee on the back of his neck. Haylle Thomas and Anisa Grant, both recent Hasbrouck Height High School graduates, addressed the crowd by megaphone.
“Today was a moment for everybody to come together and show their unity and to show that injustice and inequality can no longer stand in this time and age,"said Thomas later. "This movement is powerful for me because I lived in Hasbrouck Heights for 14 years, so to be able to sit here and to fight for people like me, people in my community, from my culture, that’s the only thing that I had to really focus on doing.”
After about 10 minutes, the group continued its march back to the high school. During the whole time, side streets were blocked by members of the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department, along with those from the Bergen County Sheriff's Department, Wood-Ridge Police Department, Carlstadt Police Department, Lodi Police Department, Little Ferry Police Department, and Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.
Back at the high school, speakers continued to urge marchers about continuing to have their voices heard about injustice. The event briefly stopped when a female participant was overcome from the weather.
After the crowd has left, five juniors from Hasbrouck Heights High School remained behind. They stood on the sidewalk in front of the high school, holding their signs, eliciting honks from passing motorists.
“I am extremely proud of our youth who organized this event," said Reyngoudt. "It’s important for them to know that there are people in this community who support them. I was honored to have marched beside them today.“
"Thank you to the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department, Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department, Hasbrouck Heights DPW, all the surrounding police departments for working so well together to ensure that the March was such a nice experience for so many of our young residents," said Kistner. "Congratulations to everyone who participated in the March."
“I just feel like today was needed," said Anisa Grant, Hasbrouck Heights grad. "It needed to happen so everyone in this town can know the pain of the black community because there are black families who live here, and I’m just proud of everyone who came out and I’m just happy.”
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