WESTFIELD, NJ — Joe Guidi stood at the edge of North Avenue and Elm Street in the rain, one hand waving to cars passing by and the other holding a sign that read “Honk 4 Black Lives Matter.”
“I saw smiles and I saw thumbs up,” the 56-year-old Scotch Plains resident said of the cars that honked as they drove by. “If [drivers] see people like themselves out here in the rain waving the signs, they honk and [think]: Maybe I should think about this a little more.”
Guidi was one of dozens standing in the rain, gathered at the cusp of the downtown advocating for Black Lives Matter on Saturday, a part of a national discussion of race in America spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Standing on the sidewalk facing downtown, protestors chanted slogans from the Black Lives Matter movement, with continuous choruses of “No justice no peace, no racist police” and reciting the names of police brutality victims. Some huddled under umbrellas to escape the downpour, while others disregarded the rain.
“Inequality exists no matter the weather, no matter the day, no matter if there's a pandemic going on,” protest organizer Georgia Gleason said through her rainbow bandana and glasses beaded with rain droplets.
Gleason, born and raised in Westfield but now a Los Angeles resident temporarily back in town, said she organized the rally to show Westfield in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and take part in what she called the “anti-racism movement.”
“This is a movement, not a moment,” she said. “This was not an isolated incident with one man named George Floyd or one woman named Breonna Taylor. Those are tragic murders and Breonna Taylor’s murderers need to be put in jail for what they did. However, they are representative of a very massive systemic issue.”
Despite the rhetoric of sweeping institutional change, though, Gleason also voiced desire for change at a local level. Gleason said she wanted more transparency in the Westfield Police Department, from information on citizens complaints to race demographics of people pulled over for traffic violations.
“[I want to] know how the Westfield police are training their force in deescalation practices and educating oneself about the prejudices we all have,” she added.
The crowd, clad in face masks, represented people of various backgrounds, with some crediting the diversity as strength to the movement.
“People of all age groups, all sexual orientations and even financial standings are taking the time to do this in the rain,” said Emma Stanton, a 21-year-old New Brunswick resident who came after a family friend told her about the rally. “The fact that they're doing this while it’s pouring and being honked at by cars, it means a lot.”
Most protestors, though, took little notice of the showers. They held their signs up to the rain and continued chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
“What's a little rain?" Guidi said in his drenched black cap and T-shirt. “There are people dying. The stories are happening every day. And if I could have ran through the rain and saved any one of those people, I think anyone here would have done it.”
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