CRANFORD - As protests are erupting all over the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement extended into Cranford on Tuesday as Union County residents gathered for a peaceful protest in Nomahegan Park.
An estimated 2,000 people attended, ranging from babies in strollers to adults, and walked around the park pond while chanting powerful phrases including, “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe.” The group also chanted coupled phrases including, “Hands up-Don’t shoot,” and “Say his name-George Floyd.”
Protesters wielded signs with the names of those lost to police brutality and with a variety of messages such as “No justice no peace; Black lives matter; white silence is violence,” and more.
“Growing up in Plainfield my mom used to tell me ‘Be careful going through Cranford because you are black and you will be targeted,’ so for Cranford to hold this here… it means a lot. To know you could share this pain with us, I had to be here” said Shantay Smith on why she attended.
Following the walk, the protesters gathered on the baseball field where protest organizer Jamal Holmes addressed the crowd, after which everyone kneeled in silence for nine minutes to honor the death of Floyd and the numerous other deaths that have spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. Holmes then allowed people to come up and address the crowd.
Several speakers spoke about their personal experiences with racism while others expressed support for the movement. Cranford Mayor Patrick Gilbin told the crowd, “Black lives matter in Cranford. Black lives matter in Union Country. Black lives matter in New Jersey. Black lives in America.”
Other speakers shared inspirational sentiments, with one saying, “The strongest thing we have is our voices. Our voices will not always be heard… but together we are truly making a difference.”
The speakers all shared this sentiment: the protest represented the beauty in unity and being heard. One speaker even exhorted the people to channel their passion into voting in November and helping as many people as possible get to the polls. The speakers also shared the idea that the protest, while a success, is only the first step.
“We need to work on this. We need to build a better New Jersey for everybody. This is only the beginning,” said Andrew Kutnetsov. He also urged people to donate and do everything they can think of to help. “I’m sick of people I love being scared to die for no reason. There is a lot of hate within white communities in America,” he added.
A little after 6:00 p.m., the large crowd began to head home. The two that had wanted to organize a protest in Cranford and joined forces to do so, Lindsay Lehault and Jamal Holmes, were pleased with the turnout and overall success of the protest which lasted a little over an hour.
“We just wanted to come out today to show peace, love, and unity," said Holmes.
“I’m so happy to see so many people come out to have their voices heard," Lehault added.