MORRISTOWN, NJ - Around the country, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest police killing George Floyd, with most peaceful, but many also turning violent. In some places, shops were looted, police cars burned and officers injured. So when a demonstration was scheduled for Saturday outside the Morris Township police, local officers did not know what to expect.
But their concern was not only about the demonstration, it was about the coronavirus, too, which is still here in New Jersey, making people sick and taking lives.
“It’s extra complicated,’’ said Captain James Perruso, of the township police, as he waited for the protestors to arrive at the police station.
By 8:30 p.m there were hundreds of demonstrators screaming, chanting and waving signs, demanding justice for George Floyd, the man killed in Minnesota by white police officers, and chantings for “good cops” to speak up. The crowd was peaceful and law-abiding, but there were still a lot of people not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing as they chanted “Say his name, George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Police never know what to expect when they are called. But in the age of coronavirus, their work is even more hazardous. They now also have to worry about getting sick and perhaps bringing the virus back to their families.
“We take precautions,’ said Michael Corcoran, director of public safety in Morristown, who oversees police and fire.
He said that when the coronavirus first hit the region, they created procedures to make sure police and firefighters remained healthy, checking temperatures regularly, adjusting staffing levels, and overall making sure that precautions were taken.
In neighboring Morris Township, the department is small, but that doesn’t mean protections are forgotten. Officer John Burk said that we still “have a job to do.” When a call comes in, Burk said if there is a potential risk of contracting the virus he and his fellow officers make sure that “every inch of our body is covered,” when they respond.
There is reason to be concerned. The coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, has spread like wildfire throughout the country and especially in New Jersey. With the second-most cases in the country at 163,336, it has taken 12,049 lives, proving that it doesn’t care who you are, all are at risk. With 6,572 cases in Morris County alone, which is more than some states, it is important to adhere to the precautionary measures that are strongly recommended.
But while the police can control their actions, they can not always be sure that those they interact with are as careful. The township police chief, Mark DiCarlo, said that his officers are trained to try to educate the public and to avoid escalating a crisis. For the police in this area, who generally have a good relationship with the community, the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota raised tensions at a time of great stress as it is. People are out of work. Shops and businesses are now closed due to what this virus has done. Now, the protests have come.
“It’s upsetting, frustrating, and understandable,” said Chief DiCarlo about the circumstances he and his officers are now facing.
When local police began to prepare for the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday, they not only had to think about helping citizens conduct their right to demonstrate, they had to worry about staying healthy. Social distancing is difficult in a crowd, but the police all wore face masks and tried to avoid conflict.
“Police officers are trying to do their best,’’ said Austin Tucker, 27, as he gathered with many others in the Morristown High School parking lot to begin the protest. “They
initially have good intentions, but can also have a little bit of misguidance.”
The protest demonstration went from the parking lot as a procession through town to the township police department. There were hundreds of people demanding change and many waving signs such as “White Silence is Violence” and “Don’t Give Up.” Jordan Campbell, 28, participated to “get the message out to value our lives” and said, “it is hard to have faith in the police.”
Clarence Curry Jr.,69, an adviser of Black Lives Matter in Morristown, said that if they can protest peacefully and successfully, then this will “teach others a lesson” in a community that is less than 10 percent African American.
As the demonstrators gathered, the police were present, helping to guide traffic and direct demonstrators. The police all wore face masks, the new symbol of our times. It is not always easy, as everyone now knows, to work and move with a mask on and one officer said he hoped they “won’t be tripping over them much longer.” When the procession reached the township police, the demonstrators gathered on the field opposite the police station. They demanded justice for George Floyd, who was killed after former officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. But they also demanded broader justice and an end to racial inequality.
As the night went on many protesters took a knee, others chanted, yet everyone just wanted to get the message across, that racism needs to end and that police need to be held accountable and that good cops need to speak up.
Police from the township, neighboring Madison, and also Morristown were standing by. They all wore masks. They all stood back and let the demonstrators have their say.
“No arrests, no problems, no summonses,’’ said Chief Mark DiCarlo, of the demonstration. “It was a success.’’
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