By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATCO – With George Floyd and Black Lives Matters rallies and protests popping up all over the country and in racial diversity cities and towns, it was no surprise that Atco, with a population of 12,500 in Camden County, would one to support BLM on Saturday.
What led to the rally, though, was heartbreaking and frightening after threats and intimidation led solidarity event for Black Lives Matter organizers to plan in secret, not letting anyone know of the rally’s location and time until an hour before the event.
Liz Whitener, one of the organizers, said while not officially apart of the BLM movement, the rally was meant to show support.
“We’ve reached out to them in hopes of having their partnership on future events,” Whitener said of the solidarity event. “In the interest of time we planned these events with the guidance and partnership of our black community leaders.”
It went off with few hiccups. Atco, in Waterford Township is nearly 80 percent white and 10 percent African-American. That mattered little as the mostly white participants hailed “Black Lives Matter” to support BLM in calls to end to police brutality and white supremacy during the rally with about 80 people.
“We had an amazing showing for an event that had to be organized with the security and secrecy level of a U.N. ambassador visit,” Whitener told Front Runner New Jersey. We only experienced a few negative encounters. A few residents paced across the street looking agitated, a few angered shouts from cars, one group started assembling in a parking lot across from us until they went away on their own. Oh, and we had one ‘MAGA’ gentleman on a horse.”
Planning for the event starting about a week ago when a 21-year-old woman posted the idea on the Facebook page “We Love Waterford.” According to the rally’s supporters, the woman was attacked on the site while threats were called into the Waterford Township Police Department.
While the original organizers cancelled the event, others picked up the ball and started planning a new rally in secret.
“Residents are having to plan in secret to fulfill their First Amendment rights,” Whitener said earlier in the week before the march. “The mayor had to issue a statement reminding residents that the town of Atco doesn’t support racism. The police have been discussing with new organizers the potential of still holding an in person vigil or protest. The new organizer indicates that while the police have indicated they will do everything they can to keep their residents safe.”
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The clandestine meetings apparently worked, with the protest going off quietly at noon Saturday.
“The police didn’t join us,” Whitener said. “In fact it seemed they were explicitly told not to. They weren’t able to take pictures with us either. But they did their jobs.”
Whitener said she is now working with Black Live Matter solidarity organizers in Hammonton who have gone through a similar complaints in organizing a rally.
“Their chief of police is a bit more progressive, but they still faced a ton of town backlash,” Whitener said.
Charlotte Talley, one of the African-Americans attending the Atco rally, praised Whitener for pulling the event together.
“I want everyone to see who has my heart and BLM, in her heart,” Talley said on Facebook. “She knew just what she wanted. She was so excited about what she was doing. When you love what you do, you will give it your all. If she was serving you a dinner it would be top choices and you would tip her greatly.”
Ian Dorgan, another attendee, couldn’t help taking a swipe at the rally’s naysayers.
“BLM Atco peaceful protest went off without a hitch,” Dorgan said on social media. “Eat your heart out all those in town who oppose us and tried so hard to keep this from happening. #WeWon.”
While violence surrounding such rallies have captured much of the attention around the country, there were scores of peaceful protests around South Jersey.
Other South Jersey Rallies
In Cape May County, where the African-American population is just under five percent, peaceful rallies were held in Middle Township and Wildwood Friday, sponsored by the Cape May County NAACP.
“The rally that we put together in Middle Township and Wildwood were peaceful and full of love,” Cape May County NAACP President Alexander Bland said. “We had local elected officers and police chiefs there to support justice for all. I would like to thank everyone who attended and supported in some type of way. Now the real work begins.”
Will Cunningham, who is running in the Congressional New Jersey District 2 Democratic primary, made note of the rally on his Twitter feed.
“Cape May Court House and Wildwood, I’m so proud to have stood in solidarity with you both today. It was beautiful watching your communities come together, and commit to moving forward together for progress,” Cunningham said.
In Atlantic City, where violent rioters rocked downtown May 31, destroying street fronts and shattering windows throughout the city’s popular The Walk, Mayor Marty Small Sr. joined in a new peaceful rally Saturday.
Well-known Imam Amin Muhammad of Masjid Muhammad in Atlantic City praised Small for work he did in the city’s neighborhoods before he became a public officials and gave a stern warning for those wishing to attack the city again.
“We’re going to give you the attention you don’t want if you disrespect our city,” Muhammad said. “This isn’t the police talking to you,” Muhammad said. “This is the citizens, the ones who struggled in Atlantic City. … We’re going to fight that fight. We’re going to talk to our leaders. …What we’re not going to do is destroy the place that our babies have got to come to and built.”
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