HAWTHORNE, NJ - A normal Sunday afternoon is typically tranquil in Hawthorne, but on June 7, hundreds of demonstrators gathered to let their voices be heard in opposition to racial injustices, police brutality, and racist policies as part of the larger movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
The Hawthorne community assembled a large gathering of peaceful but highly energized supporters, with Black Lives Matter representatives and supporters from neighboring towns such as Paterson and Prospect Park as well. Organizers included Arbresha Ahmeti, who served as an emcee; Craig Cayetano; Melissa Lambert; Meaghan Touhey; Kevin Bergen; Jim Bushoven; and Sam Nygard. A sea of masked faces, as the coronavirus has not disappeared, collected at the Municipal Swimming Pool parking lot area while the Hawthorne Police Department provided traffic control. Before marching, the crowd was addressed by several of those involved in the movement including Black Lives Matter representative Zellie Thomas and the Rev. Jim Bushoven of the Rockpoint Community Church in North Haledon.
Chants of "No justice, no peace!" and "George Floyd matters!" resonated off of the many homes and businesses up and down Lafayette Avenue. The energy was palpable and residents watched from their lawns or doors while others handed out water bottles.
"I run a group called Light Upon Life," Amalia Rodriguez said, as she waited for protestors to get to the municipal building on Lafayette Avenue. "I want to bring awareness to people through performing arts." She had a stand with 300 waters and 100 snacks to offer marchers. "If I can do anything, I want to be kind."
“This is their right,” said Matt Brandt, a homeowner out on his porch. “As long as they’re peaceful. What I would like to know is what’s the end game here? What does good look like?"
Another resident, Jennifer Pape, said, "Change needs to happen, whatever that is. There are so many layers to this."
Resident John Rock waited on a bench on Lafayette Avenue for the marchers to reach him. "I’m proud to be part of it."
As the demonstrators passed by the home of Daria Boyd, she watched with tears in her eyes, recalling the unrest of the sixties. "We should be so embarrassed by this kind of injustice," remarking with sad astonishment that in the year 2020 such demonstrations were still needed.
The destination of the march was the Municipal Building, where at one point protesters kneeled down in silence in recognition of the nearly 9 minutes that officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck. With each passing minute, the demonstrators shouted out his name. One of the rally leaders called out on his bullhorn, encouraging the participants to continue to kneel. "George Floyd couldn't get back up after nine minutes. Keep going because you will be able to rise again, he could not." For some, silent tears flowed down the cheeks of men, women and children before standing back up.
In another sign of solidarity many Hawthorne residents were offering cold water, face masks, hand sanitizer, and their support.
Mayor Goldberg lauded "the peaceful protestors who know that they, too, can participate without fear. I'm proud to be the mayor of such a diverse community. The Hawthorne of 2020 is not the Hawthorne of 1950. The Police Department of 2020 is not the Police Department of 1950. They are better educated and better trained."
Assemblywoman Lisa Swain said, "Since the tragic and horrific murder of George Floyd, demonstrations just like this one have occurred not only across America but throughout the entire world. And calls for justice, fairness, and equality have been heard loud and clear. As a legislator here in New Jersey, I stand here today to let you know I hear you and I am listening."
"I see you, I walk with you, and now I want to hear you," Police Chief Richard McAuliffe said to the crowd. "Stand strong together against violence and racism. I'm here to listen... I saw that video, I heard you... racism is a stigma and a lack of understanding. Black lives matter!"
Craig Cayetano was glad to see the local support from the borough government and police. "There are towns where no leadership showed up. This is supposed to be local, not a political event. I give credit to Mayor Goldberg for speaking, and as a Republican mayor in a Republican town, when he says 'Black Lives Matter', it makes waves, it matters. Same with the police chief. To have them speak is very encouraging." Cayetano is the State Co-Chair of Green Party NJ and Passaic County Greens as well as a community organizer and activist. He serves on the Hawthorne Environmental Commission/Green Team.
Zellie Thomas who spoke at the pool lot is a Paterson teacher, an organizer, former council candidate, and Black Lives Matter representative. "He's fought for justice and leading events locally, and he's been running North Jersey Mutual Aid collecting meals," Cayetano said.
Paterson Board of Education member and activist Corey Teague was also among those who spoke, calling for an end to systemic racial injustice.
Selaedin Maksut, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations-NJ, offered a prayer, saying no one was superior to another, and all the prophets condemn racism. "Racism is ignorance and an offense to God... our fight and protest for justice cannot stop."
"Our nation was quick to mobilize to fight coronavirus," another speaker said, calling for the nation to mobilize and fight against racism.
As the speakers addressed the crowd, personal stories were offered up recounting instances in which they and those they knew were discriminated against, felt threatened, and other injustices endured.
Tamara Jenkins representing Necessary Trouble Makers called for police to "End the no-snitch culture, end the warrior training.... we are not the enemy.... It'll take more than feel-good moments to earn our trust."
Another speaker railed against violence, saying, "Do not destroy your neighborhood or allow anyone from outside to destroy the neighborhood." He also praised white allies, but cautioned them, "Do not let your enthusiasm outshine us."
Those who took up the megaphone to speak and offer their stories and insights included Lynda Gallashaw, Monet Kendall, Summer Davis, Terrell Hughes, and more, according to the event organizers.
The rally ended at 3:00 p.m. with impassioned speeches and prayers from Rev. Dr. Michelle White and Minister Chandra Frazier, before the demonstrators dispersed, many headed back to their vehicles at the pool lot.
Hey there, reader! Do you want to chime in? Submit a letter to the editor of TAPinto Hawthorne
Sign up to receive FREE TAPinto news in your email inbox: www.tapinto.net/enews