LIVINGSTON, NJ — A group of approximately 125 community members gathered in masks at the Livingston Town Center on Monday night for what event organizers described as “a peaceful protest in response to the recent murder of George Floyd, the persistence of police brutality directed at black Americans and the continuous and systemic oppression of black Americans nationally.”

In addition to residents of all ages and races who attended in order to demonstrate that they “will no longer tolerate injustice in America,” several local officials—including council members and police officers—showed their support at this and other similar events over the last several days.

During the event, which was organized by residents Alex and Emily Herbst, Reed Blee and Stacey Abenstein, the crowd fell silent for eight minutes. Protester Ben Wasserman, a 24-year-old Livingston resident, explained that the "moment of silence" was held for “the same amount of time that [Minneapolis Officer] Derek Chauvin's knee was pressed on [Floyd’s] neck.”

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“It was long, it felt long, and I can’t imagine what it felt like to die that way,” said Wasserman. “No one should.”

Wasserman expressed pride in what occurred at Livingston Town Center on Monday and said he “hope[s] the entire town shows up” when and if another protest is held in Livingston. 

“What happened to George Floyd is emblematic of everyone who’s died because of police brutality and the lack of change we’ve seen on this issue nationally—especially over the past four years,” said Wasserman. “It’s impossible to be silent on this issue anymore, and the responses around the entire country are proof of that.”

He added that everything about Monday’s protest was peaceful, stating that there was a significant showing of support from passing cars and that the Livingston police officers at the event also “paid their respect.”

Prior to the event, Livingston Police Chief Gary Marshuetz had previously expressed the police department’s support of such a protest being held peacefully within the township.

Following Monday’s demonstration, Marshuetz once again reiterated that the video of Floyd’s death “was shocking and disturbing” and that all Livingston police officers “stand in solidarity and denounce the actions that those officers chose to take that day.”

“This death did not need to happen, and there’s not a single police officer that I know or work with in Livingston or anywhere in New Jersey that would support those tactics or those officers in any way shape or form,” said Marshuetz. “Unfortunately, in law enforcement, sometimes you get lumped into the masses, but I can assure you that in New Jersey, we’re a little bit more advanced in training and the use of force.

“Early on in your career in law enforcement in New Jersey, you learn that there are certain areas of the human body that you do not touch and you do not go near—so for a seasoned officer to see that, it was shocking for us. We do use-of-force training bi-annually here in New Jersey, and this goes against everything that we’ve been trained on.”

In addition to supporting the protest in Livingston, Marshuetz also visited the City of Newark on Sunday with Livingston Police Captains Thomas Smith and John Drumm to “stand in solidarity” with other police executives throughout Essex County and to “publicly denounce the actions of the former Minnesota police officers.”

As the mayor and council expressed gratitude toward the police department and all that the officers have done to keep the community safe during the pandemic, Township Manager Barry Lewis commended the officers for their professionalism over the weekend “in light of the unrest and uncertainty.”

In response, Marshuetz explained that the department called in additional patrol officers as well as the auxiliary units over the weekend after receiving social media threats in certain areas of the township, but that the threats were ultimately unfounded. 

“We did our research, and they didn’t come back as truly credible threats, but we wanted to have an increased police presence anyway throughout the weekend,” said Marshuetz who also mentioned that Livingston sent four officers to the Newark in response to a request for assistance. “We monitored Essex County all weekend, and for the most part, all protests were peaceful, so I was proud our county as well.”

Although the Livingston Police Department has officially canceled its annual National Night Out Event for the summer of 2020, Marshuetz expressed that the department would look for other ways to regain the public’s trust in law enforcement following Floyd’s death.

Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez also commented on the incident, stating that the circumstances of Floyd’s death are not only unacceptable and a justified cause for anger and outrage among residents, but also undermine “the good work done by the majority of police officers—especially those right here in Livingston.”

Earlier this week, Fernandez and members of the Livingston Township Council reiterated that Livingston’s diversity is the township’s greatest strength.

“Livingston is a community where we come together and proudly celebrate diversity and inclusion, and this is embraced not only by our residents, but also our employees and our police department,” said Fernandez, adding that Livingston police officers regularly participate in the multi-cultural events held throughout the year that demonstrate the community's commitment to celebrating diversity and inclusion and “show that Livingston is a community where we come together and proudly celebrate each and every culture.”

Deputy Mayor Shawn Klein, who attended the protest at Livingston Town Center on Monday, echoed the mayor’s comments but also applauded the community’s peaceful showing of support.

Klein stated that although there has been “a lot of scary stuff on social media,” the protest in Livingston was “the opposite of that” and was “a very uplifting experience.” In addition to commending the peaceful nature of the protest, Klein also said he was proud to see a wide variety of races and ages in attendance.

“After seeing the videos of George Floyd’s horrendous murder, I know that our whole council is filled with heartbreak and outrage,” said Klein. “We have worked so hard as a council and community to emphasize inclusivity and celebrate our diversity. The country’s response has been righteous in its rage, yet tragic and terrible in its violence and loss of life.

“Watching it all unfold makes me think of my favorite [Martin Luther King, Jr.] quotes. He said, ‘I refuse to accept the view that mankind so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.’ This quote should serve as a basis for all of us if we’re to avoid the terrible midnight that MLK was speaking out against.”

Event organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. More information will be shared as it becomes available