By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Hours of peaceful protests in front of the Atlantic City Police Station turned violent Sunday evening at about the same time community leaders held a virtual candlelight vigil for the death of George Floyd last week in Minnesota.
The scene was replayed in numerous cities in New Jersey and around the country, with peaceful protesters complaining their efforts to spotlight police brutality is being marred by the violence. Media reports said demonstrations went on peacefully for at least four hours and many of those attending had left when violence broke out, mostly damaging the Tanger Outlet stores.
The same thing happened in Trenton, where hours of peaceful protests ended up in vandalism and looting.
“Unfortunately, the peaceful protest that took place earlier by many has transitioned to criminal activity now taking place by a few,” the Atlantic City Police Department said in a Twitter post at 6:15 p.m. Sunday.
Mayor Marty Small Sr. was emotion in talking about the violence, initiating an 8 p.m. curfew, adding he will hold a news conference late Monday morning.
“I apologize for the ignorance today,” Small told the Press of Atlantic City, saying that those responsible should be punished. “We are better than that Atlantic City. … I love the city. Tonight was Atlantic City at its worst.”
At the Pleasantville Police Station parking lot and the Internet, several community leaders led by Mount Zion Baptist Church Willie Francois and Northfield city councilwoman Susan Korngut tried to provide an alternative to the violence.
“We have to move forward in a calculated, organized, strategic way to make a change in America,” Atlantic City NAACP President and city councilman Kaleem Shabazz said via teleconference. “This is another wakeup call because the murder of George Floyd was seen across this world, was done in real time and in broad daylight.”
Olivia Caldwell, president of the Mainland-Pleasantville NAACP, called for change as well.
“There is a nationwide epidemic where unarmed black men have been targeted over and over again,” Caldwell claimed. “These crimes have been perpetrated by many police departments and vigilantes alike who share a false sense of righteousness. Our children are taught that a police department is supposed to protect and serve its citizens. However in urban centers, all too often, black men are targeted as a suspect first.”
Amy Kennedy, who is running for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District that covers Atlantic City and held by Republican Jeff Van Drew, appeared live on the vigil to add her voice.
“I had a hard time explaining to my kids what they are watching on TV because they don’t understand why [Floyd’s death] happened in a society [where they live],” Kennedy said. “I don’t pretend to know what you’ve been through, but I know that I can’t be silent. I know that we need our leaders to stand up to make change. If you’re silent at this moment, you’re an accomplice to this. We need change that systematic and we need change now.”
Black Rowan University graduate and businessman Nate Evans Jr. called for community policing and other ways where police and the African-American community and the police can come together. He said in talking with young people, there is currently too much distrust on both sides that needs to be broken down through conversation and learning more about each other.
“It is up to us, those of us who are freedom-loving people of conscious, those of us who believe in the truth of humanity,” Francois said in closing the vigil. “We must stand up today and declare we are beyond enough is enough. We are reminded that there are George Floyds all around us. There are people who are victims of state-sponsored violence. We have to say that ‘blue crime’ is just as bad as any other crime in our community.”
Gloucester County NAACP Loretta Winters said on social media she and her husband Sonny Winters found a peaceful atmosphere while participating in a march in Pitman Sunday.
“If you know the history of Pitman, it was allegedly one of the most racist towns in New Jersey, but to see this community come out in numbers against racism and police reform was a proud step in the right direction,” Winters wrote.
“Police officers, students, parents, business owners all joined in unity chanting, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘White Silence Equals Violence’ and ‘No Justice: No Peace,’ took my breath away. How could something excitedly amazing and wonderful come from something tragic and horrible during a pandemic. To God be the glory.”
Will Cunningham, also a New Jersey District 2 Congressional candidate, tweeted out a photo of an event he attended Friday in Linwood.
“The youngest among us are stepping up and speaking out,” Cunningham said. “The work must occur across generations, across races and places, but I’m inspired by those willing to have those conversations in our local communities across this district.”
Cunningham said his campaign will hold a vigil Wednesday at 8 p.m.
“Let’s light the way together, South Jersey. Post a pic of your lit candle with hashtag #LightTheWaySJ and stand with us united against bigotry, brutality, and racism as we mourn the loss of yet another needlessly taken black life,” he said.
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