On Friday I attended the Peaceful Solidarity March which was organized by Nutley for Black Lives. I was proud to walk with these young activists, who stand against systemic racism and racially biased policies, and in solidarity with people of color. These activists are fully aware that their time has come. And they are stepping up in full force, with a sense of righteousness that seems to be reserved mostly for the young.
When we arrived at our destination, which was Town Hall, we were met by a group of, mostly older, mostly men who were supposedly there to protect the Columbus monument across the street. Even though Nutley for Black Lives explicitly expressed no interest in the statue beforehand, and the Nutley Police Department assured everyone that they would secure it.
In light of recent events, and with heavy news coverage of monument damage and removal, some members of the Italian American community were still concerned for the safety of the statue, so they rallied around it. Understandable. When something or someone you care about may be targeted, its human nature to rally around. Isn’t it?
What was not understandable was the way they were chanting ‘USA! USA!’ at us, as if we weren’t also Americans. What was not understandable was how they were pointing fingers, and giving the finger, and shouting racial slurs at us. What wasn’t understandable was them telling Nutley-born black and brown young adults to go back where they came from, as if they don’t belong here. What wasn’t understandable was the pure anger and hatred that we could see in their eyes. It was as if there were two sides of some argument, as if pro black lives and Italian pride can’t exist at the same time.
My social media post about this has been shared thousands of times, and received thousands of comments. Comments from all different points of view. I’ve received dozens of private messages, many from people of color who live, work, or do business here. Some of these messages break my heart.
And I feel that it needs to be said, to the people of color in our community, that these angry, fearful, hateful people do not represent this community. Their numbers are few. Their voices might be loud, tolerated, and often amplified, even by some people in charge, but theirs is not the voice of our community.
There are so many more people in this town who will rally around you, and who will rally around your daughters and your sons. So many more than those who will rally around a statue. We see you. You belong here. Your lives and your children’s lives matter here. We will rally for you, and around you.
I feel that it needs to be said. Clearly and succinctly. Not only by young activists and the few of us older folks who have been marching. It needs to be said by everyone in a position of influence. Black lives matter here.