SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD/WESTFIELD, NJ -- An estimated 1,500 people gathered, prayed, chanted, and displayed their outrage over George Floyd's death in Minneapolis last week, but the crowd spoke the loudest when it said nothing at all for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Co-organizer Morghan Johnson asked the crowd to remain silent for the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd before he died. The sun was hot, the air was humid, and the crowd, almost all of them in masks, held still. By the end of the first minute, people began to look at their watches. Several minutes later, tears could be seen streaming down the faces of people in the crowd as the realization of how excruciatingly long that period of time could be.
Billed as a peaceful protest, the event assembled a diverse crowd of people who were black, white, Asian and Hispanic. It was an event so powerful that it united high school students from Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Westfield, often the fiercest of rivals, for the same cause. There was powerful imagery: a police chaplain taking a knee, two police chiefs welcoming the crowd, young people speaking out, and posters with phrases like "Black Lives Matter," 'I Can't Breathe," "Say His Name: George Floyd," and "I am here for my little brother's future."
"This was a great day for people to express their outrage and demand change for clearly reprehensible racist killings," said Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith. "It was encouraging to see so many young people. They will make the changes."
"I was proud to be a part of over 1,500 beautiful faces - young and old, different colors and ethnicities," said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr. They bowed their heads for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the excruciating amount of time it took to kill George Floyd. This peaceful march today makes me want to believe that we can and must ensure that all black lives matter."
"Today's peaceful march, organized by young residents, gives me hope that our nation grows fairer and more just," said Scotch Plains Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo.
"Going into this, we honestly didn't know what to expect in terms of numbers and support. When we put out the post, people liked it, but we didn't know," Morghan Johnson told TAPinto."It surpassed our expectations - the amount of people trying to support what we're trying to do."
Johnson, a rising senior at North Carolina A&T, was also pleased by the diversity of the crowd and had not expected to see so many people who were not of color.
"What we accomplished today is opening up the topic. Yes, there have been protests, but we opened up the discussion in our community," Johnson said. "It is a step in the right direction to talk about Black Lives Matter and systemic racism all over."
Johnson thanked the towns and the police departments of Scotch Plains, Fanwood, and Westfield for supporting the march.
"I couldn't thank them enough. It was a day that I will never forget," she said.
“It was awesome,” said 22-year-old Megan Troutman of Westfield, who helped spearhead the march with Scotch Plains friends Kobe White, Briana Johnson and Morghan Johnson. “It was just amazing to think about how many people showed up to support.”
In all, about a dozen local college students and recent college graduates worked to put the peaceful multi-town event together in just five days. One of the first things they did was go to the local and county police to make sure everyone was on board.
“The police were really supportive, which was awesome to see,” Troutman said. “They wanted to show that they’re on our side, and they’re fighting for our causes.”
"The organizers did an outstanding job and represented their communities well," said Fanwood police chief Richard Trigo. "I believe they honored the memory of George Floyd. They should be very proud of what they accomplished here today."