HAWTHORNE, NJ - A statement was released from Craig Cayetano, Monet Kendall, and Arbresha Ahmeti, who were involved with organizing the June 7 Black Lives Matter demonstration which announced that a “Walk the Hill” would take place on June 19 at 6:00 p.m.  They said that the walk is to draw attention to an incident which took place last Friday on Macfarlan Avenue, which they assert was racially motivated.

The statement read, “Last Friday, June 12th around 6pm, a black father of three, Erich Garland, was out with his two sons and daughter. They were stretching and working out at the bottom of Macfarlan Avenue, when his sons wanted to practice running up the steep hill. In recent years, this has become a common thing to do in town for those who exercise.”

The statement said that Mr. Garland, “with his daughter in the truck, had started to slowly follow his sons up the hill, recording from his phone and pulling over when cars passed by. Not even 10 minutes had passed when the father and his children were approached by Hawthorne police saying that they received a few calls about a man trying to kidnap children.”  Included was a link to Garland’s Facebook video of the kids running up the hill: https://www.facebook.com/1168797672/videos/10221000760866582/

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“Not just one call but a few calls were made directly to local police,” the statement said.  “Was this because Erich Garland was driving an older model pickup truck? Were the police called because Erich Garland was a black man in said pickup truck?”

The organizers of the anticipated Macfarlan Avenue walk assert that, “The police were told that there was a black man recording and trying to kidnap ‘white children’ on the hill. Erich’s truck was approached by police and his children were asked by them if Erich was their father. Even though Erich’s sons might have a lighter skin tone than their father, the children are easily identifiable as being Erich's, due to a strong physical resemblance.”

Acknowledging that the responding police officer “was just doing his job”, the organizers were alarmed and said that several calls had been received by people on the street.  “The officer afterwards then suggested to Erich ‘to take his kids to the park next time.’”

The statement quoted Garland, saying, “First and foremost, I do not condone violence or the vilification of all law enforcement. I also want everyone to know I proudly am friends with a lot of law enforcement officers, and I understand that those who violate the public trust are the exception, not the rule. With that being said, again I will say the incident that took place on Macfarlan Avenue in Hawthorne had nothing to do with the police. It happened because of the ignorance of a few residents that live on that street. The police department was only answering the call of someone who pays taxes, that is their job. When the officer came he did not threaten me nor did he act violently towards me. He was very polite and informed me why he was called. Was it profiling? Yes it was, but not by the police.”

Cayetano said that they planned “a walk up the hill, not a march,” and would gather at the bottom of the hill Friday to proceed up the street to “assemble, inform, and educate.”  At the June 7 Black Lives Matter demonstration, Cayetano read out a “Call to Action” regarding measures for police reform.  “Now we need to take the message into the community as well, to educate those on Macfarlan Ave and throughout Hawthorne.”

Garland was quoted, saying, “Focus on what happened to me which is neighborhood profiling. That's the matter at hand here.” 

“We want to prevent another incident like this from happening again to anyone of color,” the organizers said.  “We will keep our attention on issues that are reported. Our goal is in improving all relations between the community, people of color and our police.”

The organizers said they established a Facebook Page called Hawthorne In Solidarity with Black Lives Matter “to share information, articles and draw attention to the serious social justice issues both nationally and locally.”

Calling on the Hawthorne Police to make “transcripts of these calls public to us, the town and our local news to ensure that proper de-escalation and procedures are followed in the future,” they added that, “Calls that you feel are harmless to police which may be out of trying to protect your community speak sometimes to subconscious and conscious prejudices. These stereotypes of 'that person is suspicious or they don’t look like they belong here' need to change towards black and brown people. This will be an educational and peaceful night.”

The organizers requested anyone who chooses to come to wear a face mask “for consideration of others as we will walk up the hill and go door to door handing out information.” 

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