MONTCLAIR, NJ – As vehicles drove past the apex of South Fullerton Avenue and Church Street, many wondered why there were a group of about 75 protesters who gathered Wednesday afternoon.
A diverse group of peaceful protesters that included local clergy, professors, community organizers and concerned citizens gave speeches, raised signs and sang songs to express their concerns about mass incarceration in America. They spoke of the Mike Brown shooting case in Missouri.
The protest was organized by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair and various community partners. Among those present who spoke were various members of the Montclair Clergy Association including Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, Montclair NAACP members Tom Puryear and James Harris, Madeline Hoffman of New Jersey Peace Action, Phyllis Salowe-Kaye of NJ Citizen Action, Members of NOW.
October is month of resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror and the criminalization of youth. This protest was planned to express the coalition’s concerns.
“It’s easy when you start branding people as less than human or less than you. Then you start taking away their civil rights,” said Hoffman.
Becky Doggett was one of the protest organizers and chair of the Undoing Racism Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair. She said, “It was our committee that decided we wanted to be a part of the national commemoration to stop mass incarceration, police terror and criminalization of youth. National leaders Carl Dix and Cornel West have asked people around the country to commemorate today, October 22 to remind people that we as a country are the largest jailers than any country in the world. We in the U.S. have a lot of soul searching to do, because our policies have put more people in this country in jail. This is something that is changing the character of our society. It’s not just about the people who are incarcerated, it’s about the mentality of the country.”
In between protests, a guitar player strummed while protesters sang changing the words of popular tunes to words that fit the occasion. The solidarity singers sang to the tune of the saints go marching in, protesters sang, “When young black men are not shot down, just for walking down the street. Oh I want to live in a nation, when young black men can walk the street. The new Jim Crow has got to go. We are here to tell the government, the new Jim Crow has got to go.”
Puryear, past president of the Montclair NAACP, spoke to protestors and said, “Mass incarceration is a bigger issue… The next time we talk about mass incarceration, we need to talk about it in the seriousness in which we budget it.”
David Greenstein, Rabbi of Shomrei Emunah said, “The system is broken, we need to fix it. The underlying value that we are trying to stand up for is the infinite value of every human being. Every human being is created in God’s image, even the people that some think are part of the problem.”