SOUTH PLAINFIELD – On the afternoon of June 4, over 50 people gathered at the gazebo at Spring Lake Park in South Plainfield to kneel in solidarity for George Floyd and all those who have lost their lives unjustly. The event was organized by South Plainfield High School Freshman Olivia Payne, who initiated the demonstration on social media. At 3:15p.m., the crowd kneeled on their right knees for seven minutes to honor the deceased.
“I posted about this on social media and so many people came that I knew from my school,” said Payne. “Everyone wanted to come and honor our community in simplest way, the most respectful way possible, because that's how we do it in South Plainfield. It's respectable, it's diverse and it's beautiful here.”
Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25th after he was held face down in the street during an arrest while a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The policeman responsible, Derek Chauvin, was fired and faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The three policemen who assisted were also fired and are facing charges. Payne said she wanted to hold a peaceful rally to honor his memory and knew the South Plainfield community would be supportive.
“We’re really proud of Olivia that she took the initiative to do this,” said JoAnna Payne, Olivia’s mother. “This is her way of showing support, getting the word out, and basically having a discussion about everything that's going on right now.”
“My father and my mother have told me from the beginning to never let my voice be silenced and that's what I will continue to do as I will always speak on equality,” said Olivia Payne.
Before the event began, Chief James Parker approached Olivia Payne and expressed his appreciation for what she was doing as he offered his help, and he added, “I think what you’re doing is wonderful. I really mean it and I support you. If you need anything, we’re here. Change needs to be made and this is a good start.”
Councilman Derryck White also commended Payne for her tribute.
“For a young person to organize a memorial like this is extremely moving,” White said. “I appreciate Olivia’s desire to speak up and advocate for the cause. We are living in extremely difficult times and South Plainfield as a community is unique in that we support one another no matter what. My hope and prayer is that this tragedy will bring unity to hearts and minds throughout the world, not division.”
Many attended looking to express themselves as a community and unite.
“We want to protest, and this is the way that you want to protest,” said Raymond Garry, South Plainfield resident and former police officer. “This is the right way. There’s no need for looting or rioting. That doesn’t solve anything.”
“I’m here for my children to let them know that their voices should be heard and there needs to be some justice for the African American community,” said Samantha Hunter, South Plainfield resident. “We all need to realize that this has gone on for years before any of us were born and it continues to go on. We know all lives matter, but black lives need to matter, so we can change.”
After Payne welcomed the crowd for coming out, she asked everyone to kneel for seven minutes. Hearts were heavy in the silence of the afternoon as the sun burned above the solemn group. When everyone rose to their feet after, Payne addressed the crowd.
“If you don't know who I am, I'm Olivia Payne and I'm a 9th grader at South Plainfield High School, which is our local high school right around the corner,” said Payne. “We are in a revolution where there are protests all over America and in thirteen other countries because of George Floyd. He literally changed the world.”
Payne spoke of the unjust and called for advocacy of human rights, citing times throughout history of racism and cruelty.
“Let’s fix injustice because black lives matter and black means power, beauty, unity and strength, and that matters,” said Payne. “I really didn’t think my little SnapChat and Instagram posts would bring so many people out. I see people from my school. I see the adults I grew up with. I see a government official and I see the police chief. It’s amazing and it’s awesome. I’m so happy that you’re all here and you’re joined in solidarity for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter because we matter.”
Payne invited anyone who wanted to speak to come forward and express what was in their hearts.
“I just want to say thank you very much, young lady,” said one attendee. “This is a freshman in high school who felt the need to come out and say something and I’m very proud of you for doing that…I’m proud of you for standing up here because it had to be uncomfortable for you, but this is a conversation that should make us uncomfortable. I thank you for being the example and it is going to get way more uncomfortable before it gets better because we are doing this too often. We are kneeling too often. We are hash tagging our young people too often.”
The rally ended as peacefully as it started.
“Thank you all so much for coming,” said Payne. “Thank you for your applause, but I don’t need it, this should be expected. Anti-racism should be expected. Black lives matter should be expected.”
Payne said she was amazed by the support she received from the community and did not expect so many people. Those who attended included her peers from school, parents who had known her since childhood, the chief of police and councilman.
"I've grown up around Chief Parker, so I knew who he was," said Payne. "When he came, and he bumped my elbow, I was like wow this has reach. There was also Councilman White. I just thought that it was amazing they all came to listen to me speak."
Those who attended say they felt the rally was a peaceful way to spread a message of needed change in the world.
“I agreed with a lot of the things Olivia was saying,” said Garry. “I also want to point out that most of the cops in this world are good. I am a former law enforcement officer myself, so I’ve seen the good officers and the bad officers. Those who are bad, they need to be held accountable. Those who witness it and do nothing about it, are just as guilty as those that are doing it themselves.”
“It’s time to make a change,” said South Plainfield resident Jayden Hunter, who is a freshman at Saint Joseph’s High School. “America is advertised as justice for all, but it’s not justice for black lives.”
“I think what Olivia said was positive and true,” said Justin Garry, South Plainfield High School freshman. “All black people should be treated fairly.”
As the crowd dispersed, Parker told Payne, “We’ll get through this together. I’m a firm believer in that. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I truly believe it will happen.”
“I think this is a great thing,” said Hunter. “I came because I live in this town and it was nice to see that somebody took a stand to organize something like this.”
The rally served to bring the community together to voice their hopes for a global future of equality.
“This was a peaceful protest,” said Garry. “Everything people are saying right now is repetitious. We need a change. We need it to stop, and when that happens, this world will be a better place.”
“This was so great,” said Payne. “I feel empowered. In our community, this is what we do. We don’t riot. We protest peacefully. We speak peacefully and we help each other. That is what we do in South Plainfield. I honestly love living here.”