SOMERSET, NJ – Hundreds took to the streets today to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. The killing sparked protests across the country, some of which turned violent.
Despite tensions elsewhere, it was a peaceful day in Franklin.
The march was organized by Jasmine “Jazzy” Bannon alongside Melanated Minds of NJ, a group committed to the advancement of African Americans.
“For the people who wanted to, but couldn't be here I want to say thank you for your interest because that means you know something is wrong,” Bannon told TAPinto before the march. “If you know that something is wrong you will want to fix it. That is where we all need to be in agreement, we need to fix this, we need to come together. This cannot be a thing, 2021 needs to be the start of the breakthrough. We need to take this year, and start our spring cleaning.”
“For the community to come out in droves for a national conversation that needs to be had and is continuing to be had, it’s amazing,” Melanated Minds of NJ’s Bruan Wright said.
Local leaders walked alongside protesters for more than two hours to chants of “I can’t breathe!” and “No justice, no peace!” Council members Crystal Pruitt, Carl Wright and Ram Anbarasan were joined by state Assemblyman Joe Danielson (D-Franklin), among others.
The march began at the Franklin Middle School Hamilton Street Campus. Bannon picked FMS as a starting point because many locals see the location as a true Franklin staple.
“I feel like in this area, this is Franklin, this is the community," Bannon said... ”Everyone knows where this area is, this is the middle, this is the heart, I definately wanted to bring it back here to pay homage to a great community that always comes together.
After leaving FMS the crowd turned onto Hamilton Street and then saw protesters march on Franklin Boulevard to the corner of Easton Avenue, where hundreds gathered in the parking lot of Saint Sharbel Church.
“What I want from this is a good vibe,” Bannon said before the march. “I want us to come together. I want black faces with white faces with Indian faces with Chinese faces. That’s what Franklin is.”
Earlier in the day, police met with organizers to solidify the plans for the protest. The idea was that the group would stay on the sidewalk in an effort to make sure everyone remained safe. And that’s how it started. But as the mass of protesters headed down Franklin Boulevard, some edged out into the street, their numbers swelling as residents came from their houses and adjacent blocks to take part. Once they reached Easton Avenue, police blocked traffic Southbound on Franklin Boulevard, giving the protesters space to continue.
Throughout the protest, residents filmed and raised fists in support as the crowd walked by, while many cars honked their horns and revved their engines alongside continued chants of “Black lives matter!!”
As protesters started marching again, the crowd spilled out onto Easton Avenue, blocking traffic. Despite telling organizers that the police department’s involvement would be as minimal as possible, police cruisers stopped traffic in both directions on Easton Avenue, allowing protesters to turn onto Hillcrest Avenue shortly thereafter. From there, the march turned left on Belmar Street, and then got back on Franklin Boulevard where the event culminated at the FMS Hamilton Street Campus.
Throughout the final leg of the march, police blocked traffic on streets intersecting Belmar Street, along with both directions of traffic on a stretch of Franklin Boulevard and two lanes on Hamilton Street.
The flexibility shown by police today was helped by coordination between organizers and the police department. Organizers had a direct line to cops, who were updated on the march’s progress so officers could address traffic issues as they arose.
When asked about the police support for today’s event, Braun said that it “lets us know that they understand our pain, they understand what’s going on and they will not allow that to happen here.”
Franklin’s Director of Public Safety Quovella M. Spruill – who stepped into the role at the end of April after serving as the chief of detectives at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office – said that one of the reasons she took the job in Franklin was because of the strong relationship between the community and department.
“That’s half the problem right there. In most areas, if the relationship with the community is broken, you have to fix that before you can do your job as law enforcement,” she said. “We are the guardians, not the warriors that some like to portray us as.”
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