PARSIPPANY, NJ - The time has come for "tough," if not uncomfortable, conversations about race in America. That was the message offered up Tuesday evening by Dijuan Higgins, a township native and the final speaker at a combination march and prayer vigil after the death last week of George Floyd, a 46-year-old
black man, in Minneapolis. A police officer allegedly involved in his death has been arrested.
Higgins told about 500 people assembled before him on the lawn of Veterans Memorial Park that his time growing up in Parsippany was a good one.
But he said there's a difference between being a black youth in Parsippany and a "black man in America."
He said that when minority youth reared in the insular world of suburbia encounter the real world, they often find discrimination. He said the way to stop that is to force honest conversation among family and friends about race.
And why not start right now, he said. "Let Parsippany be the example," Higgins said.
The march and vigil was peaceful and orderly in contrast to the violence and looting seen at protests elsewhere around the country. It began at 6 p.m. from Parsippany High School. But it almost didn't. On Monday, Dr. Barbara Sargent, the township superintendent of schools, said in a letter that event organizers - the group Black Lives Matter - did not have permission to use the high school parking lot to prepare for the march.
Her letter made a few points.
One was that the group didn't formally seek permission to use the lot. She also raised concerns about violating state social distancing regulations and the fear the protest would lead to trouble. But on Tuesday, the superintendent issued another letter saying use of the parking lot was fine. This letter said the district supports freedom of expression and that it would rely on local police to enforce the law.
The police presence was very visible. As marchers moved from the high school along Vail Road, police were stationed at every intersection. Police closed a section of Route 46 to allow marchers to cross the highway to get to Veterans Park. There were no incidents along the way. Marchers, most of whom were young and racially diverse, held signs condemning racism and police brutality. Upon reaching the park, the crowd symbolically "took a knee."
One of the speakers thanked the "good" cops who he said were on hand for the march and vigil. It drew polite applause. Things wrapped up around 8 p.m. and the crowd walked back to the high school, and dispersed.