MONTCLAIR, NJ – Peaceful protests and candlelight vigils have increased in Montclair during the past few weeks. An hour before the tree lighting ceremony was set to begin on Friday, over 50 protesters gathered in the cold and rain holding signs and candles in protest of the grand jury's decision in the Eric Garner case not to indict a responding police officer.
The Garner case received national attention and garnered criticism of police tactics and accusations of institutional racism when a bystander released a cell phone recording of an interaction between Garner and police officers in New York. Garner, who is black, was accused of selling loose cigarettes by officers, who were white. Garner was killed in an altercation with police when a choke hold was used against him. On December 3, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved, a decision that drew criticism from the national media and touched off a wave of protests. Garner left behind a wife and six children.
The decision came less than a week after a grand jury found no criminality in the actions of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old black man in Ferguson, Mo.
In both cases, some Montclair residents have expressed outrage and frustration, including on social media. While some responded by asking for a reinstatement of the Conversations on Race Program or another open dialogue, others have taken to the streets around town to voice their concerns.
Attendees on Friday were asked to gather in Montclair with signs that asked for social justice or pay tribute to Garner.
BlueWaveNJ organizers issued the following statement, “At the close of another heartbreaking week, we are saddened to be writing again to express our disappointment and frustration with a system of justice that increasingly appears to many to be failing in the equal application of justice. Whether it be Florida, in Ferguson, and now close to home in Staten Island, we are watching with sadness, with anger, with outrage as too many young and black lives are lost to violence, and justice is not forthcoming.
Our thoughts are with their families, communities and with those who continue to bear the burden of an unequal system and to suffer the costly consequences of unequally applied justice. We will continue to support those calling for change in the system and hope our members and friends will join us in the fight for a more just and equitable society for all. Over the next several weeks we hope to announce additional actions and events that you can take part in. We hope you will add your voice to this unfolding conversation and join us in sending the message that black lives matter, that all lives are of value and should be equal in the eyes of our justice system.”
Prior to the ruling in the Ferguson Case, protesters gathered on October 23 at the Church Street Apex to demonstrate. They stood alongside the solidarity singers from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and sang and gave speeches. The group of about 75 sang, “Justice for Mike Brown, Lord, Justice for Mike Brown…”
Then on Nov. 25, one day after the St. Louis grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Wilson, BlueWaveNJ organizers teamed up with the Undoing Racism Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair to lead a Silent Candlelight Vigil in Church Street Plaza in response to the grand jury'sdecision. In that protest, participants were invited to join in a “peaceful yet forceful action for justice.” Organizers said, “We are a gentle, angry people. And we are standing for our lives...."
BlueWaveNJ organizers said, “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by what appears to be the unequal application of justice - first by the police action and now by the judicial process - as seen in the Ferguson Missouri grand jury's decision not to return an indictment in the death of Michael Brown yesterday. We stand with their families and with those who continue to be unfairly victimized by an unequal and often unjust system and continue to suffer the terrible consequences of unequally applied justice. We will continue to support those fighting for change in the system and will continue to work for a more just and equitable society for all.”
On December 3, over a hundred Montclair High School students of various nationalities gathered in the amphitheater locking arms and holding signs that read, “Black Lives Matter.” A sign on the wall behind them read, “MHS in Solidarity.” Students also spoke and at one point paused to ask all of the African American males to raise their hands in the surrender position.
Montclair Police Sgt. Tyrone Williams, who is also the President of Sentinels 16 minority police officers organization, teamed up with Roxanne Kent and the Union Congregational Church to bring together 100 community leaders that included Mayor Jackson, the entire council and Montclair Police Chief Sabagh to view a private stage reading entitled Uniform Justice, with the idea of jumpstarting a conversation about positive police-community relations.
Co-Organizer Kent stated, “We invite you to join in our effort to start a conversation to build greater engagement and communication between our police forces and the community they serve. We need all voices at the table.” The Montclair police Department has also been proactive with their community policing initiative and Coffee with a Cop program where the public is able to interact with officers in a positive light.
In front of Renaissance School on Friday morning, during parent drop-off, yet another group of protesters gathered on the corner near the school holding signs. On Friday evening, over 50 protesters peacefully gathered in front of the holiday tree lighting. Some elected officials, such as Councilor Renee Baskerville and Freeholder-elect Britnee Timberlake, also joined in solidarity with the protesters.
Other vigils, teach-ins and forums have been scheduled around town for the coming weeks and months through various organizations in Montclair.