‘People are Here to Listen Now’ — What’s Behind the Protests in NJ
Demonstrations in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continue to pop up across the Garden State. New Jersey residents seeking a change in law enforcement's interactions with people of color say while attention on racial injustice takes center stage after a horrific act is caught on tape, it's something they confront on a daily basis.
And, they say, protests — ones that actually have a purpose — seem to be grabbing the attention of folks who may have not been interested in the cause in the past.
"There are certain areas between Morris Plains, Morris Township and Morristown that you do not feel comfortable as a person of color driving trough. That's a big concern," said T'Anna Kimbrough, founder of Black Lives Matter Morristown.
"There's something being lost here," added co-founder Ollie Starnes. "We want to be treated equally."
According to the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, statistics show that in the Garden State, black people are more likely to be arrested, fined and incarcerated than their white counterparts who commit the same offenses. At the same time, state conference president Richard Smith noted, police are more likely to use force against black people and other minorities versus white individuals.
"While this incident took place in Minnesota, we must acknowledge that these are not isolated incidents," Smith said. "Systemic racism throughout the continuum of the criminal justice system must be reformed locally and nationally."
Four Minneapolis police officers have been charged for their actions during the May 25 arrest of 46-year-old Floyd, a black man, that ended in his death. The incident, caught on camera from numerous angles, triggered protests against police brutality and racial inequality nationwide and throughout New Jersey — many of them peaceful, others resulting in criminal activity and charges.
Involvement by police officers and public officials, along with unprecedented support by individuals of all races, has made for a more powerful and likely more meaningful round of demonstrations, according to Kimbrough, of Black Lives Matter Morristown.
"People are here to listen now," Kimbrough said.
Kimbrough said the group is interested in meeting with local enforcement to "go over their policies" regarding use of force and body cameras.
"We don't want to go in with, just, assumptions. We want to see numbers. We want to see facts," she said. "We also want to discuss community policing. How engaged are your police officers with the towns?"
According to an analysis of five years of use-of-force reports, conducted by NJ.com's The Force Report, a black person is three times more likely than a white person to be subjected to force during an interaction with police.
Former Secretary of State DeForest B. Soaries Jr., who currently holds the position of senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, said the Floyd incident "touched a nerve" for the many people in New Jersey who are aware that "the black experience with police is less than what it should be."
"This fellow died right before our eyes," Soaries said. "I think that just conjured up images of black oppression, of slavery, of all that narrative that has penetrated race relations in this country for years."
During Soaries's time as Secretary of State — he became the first African American male to hold the role in 1999 — an issue of great significance was racial profiling by the State Police.
"Many people just did not believe it happened," Soaries said. "The reality was that the data was clear, that African Americans and Latinos were pulled over and asked questions at a higher rate than white Americans."
According to Soaries, a number of demonstrations occurring across the state are "more crowds, rather than legitimate protests" — a group of people showing up after curfew, attacking police or property, won't accomplish anything.
"I see the crowds going away until there's another incident," he said.