NUTLEY, NJ - Nutley residents spoke up via Zoom during public comment at the Tuesday, June 16 Board of Commissioners meeting about their concerns with racism and the new Cultural Inclusion and Diversity Council introduced as a resolution by Public Affairs Commissioner John V. Kelly III.
The board approved Resolution 142-20 establishing a new Cultural Inclusion and Diversity Council. Commissioner Kelly envisions various group leaders coming together with a shared vision for Nutley.
Catherine Pezo of Nutley asked for an honest dialogue about racism and to have people of color involved in the new council. She said keeping the group leaders only “white males” doesn’t change the internal problem in society. “It may be hard for some of us to see how racial injustice plays a role in our town especially when we’re being used as a good example. […] Nutley has historically been praised for the community involvement of our police department. […] The minority in Nutley does not have the same experiences […],” she said.
Pezo said according to New Jersey Force Report, based on population a black person in Nutley is 603 percent more likely to have force used on them than a white person.
According to Jason Loh of Nutley, two commissioners did not kneel with the crowd at the protest on Sunday, June 7 in Yanticaw Park. Protest participants kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, killing him.
Loh voiced concerns with how the selection of the council will be and if residents would be involved. He also asked its plans and its purpose.
Kelly said he asked members of Nutley Pride, Nutley United and the Nutley Clergy Alliance and will reach out to other groups with representation of individual group members. The council would hold events that include cultural performances and food festivals and create dialogue between the different groups and the community.
Nutley resident Norma Buster made a Facebook post calling for a reform of the Nutley Police Department (NPD). Buster recently met with Nutley Police Chief Thomas Strumolo and Capt. Robert Irwin to speak to them about the handling of her domestic violence case from five years ago. According to Buster, NPD profile people of color, intimidate them and tell them to “go back to the hood.” She said they were surprised when she said people of color do not feel safe coming forward to the NPD because of what is going on in this country and their own experiences with the Nutley police.
Buster also requested that Nutley for Black Lives and actual people of color be included in the new council.
Mayor/Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci said the point of this committee is to get people together and make everyone feel included. “I agree with you, we have much more to learn. And we’re open to listening, and we’re open to acting,” he said.
Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco said to bring any case handled unprofessionally to his attention that he will not tolerate it. “We are an accredited police department […] we did it for the last 10 years. […] All people are equal. All our police officers are paid well, they are professionals, and we hold them to a high standard,” he said.
Petracco stated he is proud that in the 12 years he has been on the board Nutley has received an award for being one of the safest communities in New Jersey, in the top 50. “I applaud our police department and […] this is news to me that there are cases like that,” he said.
Anthony Salimbene of Nutley shared stories he collected of racism incidents with the NPD through a social media survey from residents who wish to remain anonymous. He said one high school student on her lunchtime saw her friend, a black man, standing at the corner; she shook his hand and proceeded to her car, drove away and then was stopped by a Nutley police officer and searched for drugs and said, ‘I guess you are good at hiding drugs.’ He said a Jamaican person said police stopped him in his neighborhood because of a suspicious person notice, but he did not fit the description and felt the police were trying to get him to confess to something.
“Racism not only exists in Nutley but it effects our institutions. It is the responsibility of our elected officials, police officers, school board and community at large to recognize, address and actively fight against racism in Nutley,” Salimbene said.
Tucci said that along with the creation of this council, his Schools Collaboration Committee would also speak on not only space concerns and scholastics but also issues of bias and what to do to correct it.
A Minichini of Nutley asked if there would be a discussion of the history of racism in Nutley and in Essex County. He also questioned if people of color would be on the committee. “The problem isn’t about learning of the people of color’s culture its learning one’s history and racial injustice starting with slavery until now and why it’s still an issue,” she said.
Kelly said the committee’s purpose is not to only be culturally aware but to be proactive in addressing racism issues including intolerance and injustice, and that people of color would be on the committee.
Minichini also said she believes some police departments have an informal code called the “Blue Wall of Silence,” where officers defend, hide and protect other officers’ wrong doings. She would like the Nutley Police Department to put out a statement that they are not involved with it.
Petracco said if anyone knows of a police officer not handling something correctly that they should tell him. “[…] if someone is mistreated here because of their color or race or whatever their background is, […] that will not be tolerated in Nutley. […] I can’t react if somebody doesn’t come forward, but we really have a fantastic police department and our crime rate is really low here in Nutley,” he said.
Stella Marcial recently moved to Nutley and was disappointed to see many racist comments made in the Nutley Citizen’s Community Facebook page. She also said at the Nutley protests she saw many hecklers. Marcial asked that the NPD send out a message of support of people of color and allies and condemn people who are racists, xenophobic and those spreading hate messages. “It seems that racism in this town is OK. […] I believe though the police are very looked up to in this town, and if they made a message people would respect them,” she said.
Tucci said, “Unfortunately, we cannot control what everyone says or does but I can assure you that this governing body will do everything in its power to make everyone in this township to feel included and feel like the vital part of this community like they are.”
Rory Moore of Nutley said the Education Committee selection is all “old people” and hopes Kelly will choose a more diverse council.
Kelly said residents interested in the council could email him at email@example.com.
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