NEWARK, NJ -- I entered Newark, NJ, on Saturday with shatter-proof goggles, a helmet and camera. As a freelance photographer, I wanted to capture the historic moment of the George Floyd protests, but was also nervous. Footage of Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia smoldering occupied my news and Twitter feeds the night before.
Would the same happen in Newark?
It turns out, no. Not on that day at least. The rally, organized by the People’s Organization for Progress, was orderly and largely peaceful. People handed out water and snacks to help the crowds handle the heat. The demonstrators included people from a wide range of racial backgrounds. Most spoke respectfully with each other, expressing their hopes and the change they sought. I even connected with a few other journalists.
Peaceful, though, should not be equated with placid. People were passionate. Angry. Outraged. But they expressed their emotions without destruction. The protest in Newark appeared starkly different from the violence in New York City, just a short train ride away.
Still, there were moments when tensions flared at the demonstration in Newark. Some protestors started banging on the windows of a Dunkin’ Donuts. In front of the First Police Precinct, protesters met with officers clad in riot gear and carrying shotguns. Some demonstrators threw plastic bottles at police, shouted expletives, and at one point, someone slashed the tires of a police car.
But every time one person escalated tensions, 10 people stepped in to defuse the situation. When some protestors rushed at the Dunkin’ Donuts, they were swiftly stopped and chastised by other protestors, who told the provocateurs: “This is not what we came here to do!” In front of the police precinct, a shirtless man jumped on a police car and yelled “We about to play!”
No one joined him, and both police and protesters calmly asked him to get off the car.
Crowds in front of the precinct later dissipated, with some staying into the evening to protest. It was unlike the violence reported in other cities across the nation. I witnessed no broken storefronts, teargas deployed or police cars set aflame.
I had no use for my protective gear.
In the Garden State, I hope it can stay that way.
Daniel Han is a freelance journalist, Westfield High School Graduate of 2019 and freshman studying journalism at Rutgers University.