HAWTHORNE, NJ - Marvin Gaye was playing as a small gathering of young people waved signs in support of Black Lives Matter at the corner of Central Avenue and Lafayette Avenue. Kevin W. Bergen, 21, of Hawthorne, said he had arrived at about 9:30 a.m. Others who joined him were Jessica Sanford, 20, Skyler Russo-Wilson, 20, and Kayla Gurriell, 19, all from Hawthorne.
"The message I’m trying to get out is calling out your own communities," Bergen said. "As a white person, I think it’s my job to educate people, especially in this kind of community where you don’t see this kind of action all the time. You have to mobilize fellow young people and just grow from there."
Sanford said she had gone to show her support because it was, "Unfair how black people are being treated in our country, that it’s being allowed, and the systematic racism that’s going on."
As to the response from drivers and pedestrians walking by, Russo-Wilson said, “It’s very heartwarming to see how many people are actually saying hi to us, and almost all the police who have passed have waved to us.”
"It’s encouraging to see the reception that we’ve got, honestly," Gurriell said.
"I was surprised," Bergen said, acknowledging that not everyone had been friendly. "There are some nasty people--and they’re really nasty--but, for the most part, it’s a lot of peace signs and 'I’m with you's."
Sanford said, "We had a couple people give us middle fingers and a couple who said ‘we’re gonna fight you’ but that’s not the majority at all."
With regards to Mayor Goldberg’s statement that he didn’t think something like what happened to George Floyd would happen in Hawthorne, Sanford said, "You have to stop being surprised because it could happen anywhere."
Russo-Wilson said, “At this point you can’t remain silent, you need to stand up and educate others.”
When asked what white privilege meant, Bergen said, "If I was a darker shade, I wouldn’t feel as safe as I do. So I think every white person should check their privilege because African-Americans and other people of color are being killed in such disproportionate rates compared to us, especially by police officers, and it’s a scary thing for them. It’s just terrible."
"White people know their privilege," Sanford said, "we’re all white people, we know our privilege.”
“Don’t just take it from us,” Gurriell said, “take it from black activists and leaders of the movement.”
Later in the afternoon, the demonstrators had grown in number to about a dozen, most of whom wore masks over their mouths and noses. The procession moved along Lafayette Avenue chanting "George Floyd", the name of an African-American man killed on May 25 in Minneapolis. During his arrest, Officer Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd's neck for approximately nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly said "I can't breathe." An autopsy concluded Floyd died of “mechanical asphyxiation.” Four days afterwards, Chauvin and the other officers involved were dismissed. Chauvin has since been charged with murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the second degree. Similarly, in 2014, Eric Garner was arrested for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. During the encounter with NYPD, Garner died after being wrestled to the ground and held in a choke hold, also saying, “I can’t breathe.”
As the demonstrators walked up and down Lafayette Avenue between Warburton Avenue and Rea Avenue chanting, “Say his name – George Floyd!” the chants changed to “Say her name – Breonna Taylor!”
Taylor was a 26-year-old woman from Louisville, Kentucky. She was killed in her apartment during when a narcotics-related “no knock” warrant was being served by police on March 13, 2020. Plainclothes police allegedly entered the apartment and Kenneth Walker, her boyfriend, fired a gun, believing there was a home invasion. Gunfire was exchanged and Taylor was fatally struck eight times. One police officer was injured in the leg. No drugs were found. Walker was arrested but later released with charges dropped, pending the outcome of an FBI investigation.
“Hands up, don’t shoot!” was another chant called out, referring to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, when the slogan became widely used in anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country.
The demonstrators stayed on the sidewalks and made use of cross walks at all times while waving home made signs. They said they were not part of an organization, but had just gathered to make their statement. Several cars passing by honked and drivers waved to the demonstrators during their vocal but orderly march.
A member of the Hawthorne Police Department stood at a distance while the demonstrators waved signs in front of the municipal building. The officer said there had been no issues or problems and the department had their safety in mind.
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