PROSPECT PARK, NJ - On Wednesday evening, locals put on their face masks and showed up at the Municipal Building to take part in the Prospect Park United Community Vigil and Walk. The efforts of local leaders and the borough government were designed to bring a sense of solidarity to the community during tense times of racial injustice and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Pastor AJ Santino spoke first and served as emcee, beginning with a prayer and extolling the virtues of unity. He was followed by Mayor Mohamed Khairullah, who denounced racism of all kinds, and mentioned his own experiences with discrimination at the airports. He discussed the murder of George Floyd and condemned systemic racism, emphasizing that black lives do matter. Khairullah quoted from the Quran that if a person kills another "it is as if he has killed all of mankind."
The mayor also said that the Prospect Park Police Department was a well-trained and highly professional force with regards to the use of force, bias incidents, anti-discrimination, and de-escalation. He further said that the borough itself supports anti-discrimination policies and the equal protection clause of the Constitution to deliver equal services to all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or gender.
"There is a seat at the table for all of us," Khairullah said, encouraging residents to get involved in shaping a more just society.
Following the mayor, Councilman Robert L. Artis spoke and delivered his remarks from the heart, without a prepared speech. He spoke of his own experiences with racism and the ways in which he had been discriminated against without even knowing it until later on in life as his awareness and experience continued to grow.
Pastor Juan Sarmiento of the Iglesia Pentecostal spoke next, followed by Commissioner Bridget Arrick of Manchester Regional High School. Arrick, the first female African-American to serve as a MRHS school commissioner, encouraged resident youth to get involved with the Youth Council and to be a part of the process for change.
Police Chief Charlie Atie took the podium afterwards and hailed the multicultural strength of the community and the police force itself. "Black lives absolutely do matter," the chief said in closing.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who represents New Jersey's 35th District, delivered a passionate speech, saying that people needed to feel the "fire in your belly" to stand up and fight against injustice.
Reverend Matias from the Good Shepherd Christian Reformed Church quoted from Ezekiel and Amos.
Reverend Lassiter, Chaplain to the Prospect Park Police Department, called on those gathered to say "Eight minutes and forty six seconds" during his speech. He made the analogy of "all lives matter" and "black lives matter" being represented by a house fire. While all the houses on a street matter, he said, the house on fire is the one that needs the help.
With the vigil concluded, the walk began. As the residents were given candles, some held up signs, while others chanted "Black Lives Matter", "George Floyd", "Breonna Taylor", "No Justice, No Peace", and more. The march followed North 9th Street to Haledon Ave, then to North 11th Street, and back to the Municipal Building on Brown Ave.
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