NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – A rapid response organization focused on documenting incidents of anti-Black racism, holding its perpetrators responsible and supporting its victims will be just a phone call away starting next month.
The Black Community Watch Line is a free and confidential resource that will go live across Middlesex County on Sept. 9, its founders said Friday.
Whether racism is lurking in corporate board rooms, police departments, the courts, the streets or elsewhere, six operators will be available at all times.
The Black Community Watch Line can be called upon in various situations, whether it's someone who feels as if he or she is in physical danger at the moment to someone who needs to know how to get a copy of body cam video. Those answering the phone will be able to point callers toward myriad resources available throughout the community.
Although police have long been tracking incidents of bias crime, the Black Community Watch Line will be categorizing the incidents of racism in different and sometimes more detailed ways. The leaders of the group said they hope this will put pressure on members of local police departments and other societal institutions.
“We're going to be keeping a database,” said Antoinette Moss, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church on Montgomery Street in Highland Park, at a press conference attended by several of her congregants and other supporters outside the New Brunswick Theological Seminary on the Rutgers Campus. "So, we're going to be able to see trends and then keep people accountable. And also, we can go to legislators and policymakers and say, 'Look, this is happening. What is going to be your response? How are you going to change or shift policy so things like this won't continue to happen in the Black community?”
The announcement of the pending launch of the Black Community Watch Line comes just days after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot seven times by Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police officer Rusten Sheskey and about three months after George Floyd died after a Minnesota police officer used his knee to pin him to the ground for almost nine minutes.
The people who have volunteered to answer the calls are eager to help do something to halt racism. They're people like Lucinda Holt.
"The Black Community Watch Line is important and it won't exist unless people are willing to step up and be dispatchers," Holt said Friday. "If you look back in the past, like the Civil Rights Movement (of the 1960s), it wouldn't have happened unless people were brave enough to step up and do something about it.
"And we continue to see anti-Black violence and anti-Black discrimination. The only way something is going to change is if people step up and say, 'This isn't OK.' We need to be there to witness these incidents, provide support for people. And, that's not going to happen unless we do something."
The Black Community Watch Line will be structured similarly to an organization created by Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the First Reformed Church in Highland Park. The Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo (DIRE) dispatches volunteers to sites where immigrants may be targeted in ICE operations or other situations.
There were several children at Friday's event. Lena, who is going into her sophomore year in high school, and Penelope, who is going to be a junior, said their friends often talk about anti-Black racism and what they can do about it. They said the Black Community Watch Line gives them hope.
"My worry is that often times, people in my community tend to live in fear and if we try to advocate for ourselves we get painted as sort of like we're looking for trouble or just we're making issues out of things that just aren't there because people will often try to discredit the stuff that we go through," Penelope said. "So, I really hope people realize this is for you, to help you. All we want to do is make your life better, make you feel safer in your communities."
Moss said the phone number for the Black Community Watch Line will be announced on Sept. 9.