SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Protesters called for police reforms during the third demonstration held in Scotch Plains-Fanwood this week following the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died last week while in police custody when an officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Unlike the previous events, which had a schedule of speakers including elected officials, Sunday's demonstration invited members of the community to take the microphone and share their feelings. The first was 80-year-old Jamie Wright-Butler, who was born in Darlington, SC, and lived in Harlem and East Orange, before moving to Scotch Plains 12 years ago.
"I marched with Martin Luther King (in Newark), and here I am marching again in 2020," Wright-Butler said, adding that she had not experienced racial-related incidents while she has lived in Scotch Plains. She encouraged people to vote.
Talib Morgan invited the audience to learn more about his Beacon Initiative, which fosters conversations between people of different backgrounds and celebrate humanity.
"We NEED our cries heard! All too often black men and women are murdered with no justice served," said Kyiani Womack, who read from an original poem she wrote. "Being black is the most challenging test. One wrong move and you'll be laid to rest."
Although the local police officers were applauded a few times for attending and keeping people safe, speakers denounced bad cops, as well as good cops who stay silent when injustices occurred. ("When I'm approached by an officer I shouldn't be afraid for my life at that moment.")
Some speakers became overcome with emotion while recounting their experiences. A few members of the white community also spoke and pledged to support the Black Lives Matter movement. All three demonstrations in Scotch Plains and Fanwood have brought together large and diverse audiences outraged by the death of George Floyd and others.
Several young people described being ridiculed even amongst their friends at school in the SPFK12 district. Bruce Arthur, Jr., a graduate of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and Rutgers, recounted how his classmates touched his hair and called him a monkey while he was in middle school. Another young speaker referred to black people as "beautiful kings and queens, not thugs and thieves."
Mothers, too, expressed their despair. Ashley Tufuga said: "Us black mothers are pissed off and tired of burying our babies! And we don’t care how old a man or woman gets, they are ALWAYS Mama’s baby!"
"We’ve marched as a family at the multiple protests going on in our town and during the sit in today, my daughter felt compelled to speak in front of the large crowd," said Tonya Williams, a member of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education and a graduate of SPFHS. "She encouraged young people to make a difference. Be lawyers, judges, Board of Ed members, councilmen, etc to have a voice and make a difference. At the end of her speech, she said she has been having anxiety because she is scared for her 3 brothers and father."
During the event, Scotch Plains-Fanwood football coach Austin Holman took the stage to applause from the crowd, many of whom had read his heartfelt letter to his team that was published on TAPintoSPF and many other news sites.
"In 1991, I was 10 years old and I saw the Rodney King video. Mothers and fathers had to explain to their children what was going on," Coach Holman said. "He explained 'when you drive a car, these are the things you must be aware of. He was talking about police'."
Coach Holman's message was one of accountability.
"Accountability is not just for the men and women in blue. You must all be accountable. Their job is to serve and protect. They are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. If you cross that line, we must be accountable for our actions," he explained. "Those in power positions have to be accountable, too. If we are all accountable, I won't have to make this same speech when my 17-month-old daughter is 10."
A theme of the day was keep the pressure on now that America has largely awakened to ongoing problems between races. "Being as non-racist isn't good enough," the speakers said.
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