UNION COUNTY, NJ — An estimated 1,500 people prayed and chanted during a march from Scotch Plains to Westfield Thursday displaying outrage over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
But the those gathered for the protest spoke loudest when they said nothing at all for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time Minneapolis police Officer Derik Chauvin kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd until he died. It is a display that was carried out in protests and memorials across the nation.
In Scotch Plains, protesters did it while wearing masks on a 90-degree day. 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.
“That was the most emotional point,” said 22-year-old Megan Troutman, of Westfield, who helped spearhead the march with Scotch Plains friends Kobe White, Briana Johnson and Morghan Johnson. “You realize how long eight minutes is. … It was uncomfortable and overwhelming in a really powerful way.”
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.”
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Early in the demonstration, Westfield police Chaplain Deacon Keith Gibbons took a knee, along with two police chiefs welcoming the crowd, young people speaking out, and waving posters with phrases including “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can't Breathe,” “Say His Name: George Floyd” and “I am hear for my little brother's future.”
“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,” Johnson, of Scotch Plains, told TAPinto. “It surpassed our expectations — the amount of people trying to support what we're trying to do."
Johnson, a rising senior and 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,” she 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.
“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.”
TAPinto Westfield managing editor Matt Kadosh contributed to this report.
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