NUTLEY, NJ - What started out as another in a series of protests and rallies by Nutley for Black Lives turned into a media circus after a group of counter-protesters showed up in response to rumors. By the time sun set on June 26, Nutley was making headlines across broadcast and print media, nationally. Over the weekend, "Nutley" was trending on twitter.
Nutley for Black Lives describes themselves as "A small, hometown organization dedicated to fighting for the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement." They were part of the large rally and march in June, and subsequent protests in the township. (read: Nutley’s Yanticaw Park Filled With Strength, Courage and Wisdom During Black Lives Matter Protest )
Friday's event was supposed to be similar, but instead of marching, it was to be a "Solidarity Roll Out." The premise was simple, gather on South Franklin Ave., move through Nutley Center, and end at Town Hall, the local seat of government. Protestors and their supporters made the journey on skateboards, skates, bikes, and scooters. A group followed closely behind on foot. Chants of "Black Lives Matter," "Say His Name, George Floyd," and "Say Her Name, Breonna Taylor" filled the air. Then the rumors started.
Lorraine Kucinski, President of Nutley UNICO, reported that the organization was contacted by several sources on Wednesday claiming that the group was targeting the Columbus monument on the lawn at town hall. The rumors claimed that the group was planning to either remove the monument, or deface it. It was at that time that an email was sent to all UNICO members calling for them to show up to defend the monument. UNICO is an Italian-American civic organization, the monument in Nutley was purchased through the fundraising efforts of Nutley UNICO.
Kucinski stated that the Nutley Police Department told UNICO that the "impending march was not about the statue but a BLM march, we immediately retracted the call to our membership in another private email." The UNICO retraction, sent on Thursday reads:
“We've been advised that tomorrow's (Friday) demonstration in Nutley is not focused on the Columbus Statue, but is a Black Lives Matter initiative. As such we need not be concerned with any damage or defacing of our statue. There will be police presence in the area to ensure this since that is where the demonstration is planned to end. Accordingly, there is no need for us to coordinate a counter demonstration. Our president Lorraine endorses canceling the get-together at the statue.”
On the day of the March, shortly after noon, Kucinski is reported to have reached out to Catherine Pezo of Nutley for Black Lives to state, "Nutley UNICO would not interfere with your march."
Despite the email and reports from the Nutley Police Department about the event, A group of about 40 counter-protestors gathered around the monument in anticipation of Nutley for Black Lives arrival. By this time, the Traffic Division of the Nutley Police Department formed a perimeter around the monument area consisting of plastic "Jersey barriers." According to Kucinski, no one from UNICO is reported to have been there.
The Nutley for Black Lives group stopped on Franklin Ave. at the intersection of Chestnut St. before continuing to the center of local government. Waiting on town hall lawn was a group of middle-aged residents and retirees. Initially the counter protestors chanted "USA! USA! USA!," but as the protestors got closer, the chants disappeared. Individuals within the group shouted "Get off the property," "What about abortion," "Get a job," and the N-word, more than once.
Kucinski stated that "If anyone attended the event that day they did so of their own accord and not as representatives of Nutley UNICO. We would not and do not condone any of the negative, disrespectful behavior we learned took place that day."
With cameras rolling, and a news helicopter hovering overhead, Nutley made headlines on the evening news on most broadcast channels. By the time the 11 p.m. news rolled, unedited footage of the event was being shared across multiple social media platforms.
As the weekend rolled on, more photos and videos of the Friday event circulated on social media. Several of the parties involved were identified, and their employers were tagged in photos and video footage of the event. Many of the counter protestors were identified as Nutley residents, but an almost equal proportion were identified as residents of other communities.
The Nutley for Black Lives participants were mainly under-30 something Nutley residents, with a heavy sprinkling of well known residents of in the "over 45" age group.
With regard to Nutley for Black Lives, Kucinski stated, "Nutley UNICO is not a political organization, however, we respect your right to march."
As print media began to hit porches in town, the BLM event was re-categorized as a "statue protest," despite the Nutley Police Department reporting that that was not the case.
As the sun began to set, the counter-protesters went home exhausted. Nutley for Black Lives rode back down Franklin Ave. raising up a chorus of chants. And Cristoforo Colombo continued his gaze across Chestnut St.
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