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Local officials, police speak on events in Minneapolis, call for unity to end racism

Local officials took to social media, whether in a statement or personal note, to express their thoughts following the events surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Floyd, an African American man, died after Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes after pinning him to the ground during an arrest on May 25. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder on May 29. Three other officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder on June 3.

“Like many residents, I have become outraged by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch wrote in a social media post on May 29. “It is a mistake to assume that events like these do not impact us. Leaders across the United States must take this opportunity to reflect upon our communities and ensure that our law enforcement agencies are in the best position possible to respond fairly and with careful regard for human life.”

Busch said following Floyd’s death he has discussed with Metuchen Police Chief David Irizarry about how the Metuchen Police Department continues to train each year in a variety of de-escalation techniques and diversity education.

“Part of having one of the most professional and prepared police departments in the state requires that we continuously review our actions to ensure that every person is treated equitably, no matter the circumstance,” he said. “In Metuchen and everywhere, we have a shared responsibility to treat one another with respect and dignity.”

A peaceful protest was held in Metuchen on May 31 in front of the Reverend Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Memorial Park on Middlesex Avenue.

“I’m proud to be the mayor of a community which understands that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ ” Busch said, quoting MLK, following the protest.

Another peaceful protest was scheduled in Edison from Sam’s Club on Route 1 to Edison High School, 50 Boulevard of the Eagles, at 2 p.m. on June 8.

Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan released a statement on June 3 ahead of the protest. He said officers respect everyone’s right to protest and the need to gather for the purposes of discussion and reflection.

“It is imperative [the protests] remain non-violent to ensure the discussion is neither muted nor diverted by the actions of others whose purpose is mayhem rather than constructive dialogue,” he said. “Now is the time for collective prayer, reflection and the continued effort to maintain confidence and trust without our community.”

Bryan said the Edison Police Department, Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, the Edison Township governing body and the Middlesex County Association of Chiefs of Police, led by the Metuchen police chief, offer their “sincerest condolences to George Floyd’s family.”

“We hope his family finds solace and comfort through the support of the many communities who have collectively responded in positive fashion to his tragic death,” he said. “It underscores how fragile the bond of trust between police and community can be and the efforts necessary to preserve the integrity of this relationship.”

Bryan said through accountable and transparent service, it is their responsibility to ensure police practices are conducted fairly and without bias throughout communities. He said police agencies are governed by contemporary rules and regulations.

“Our officers receive continuous training related to use of force, crisis intervention and de-escalation,” he said. “And, our recruitment practices provide opportunities to all in our communities who wish to serve – all of which is representative of a progressive agenda to continuously improve our profession.”

Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac often ends his daily coronavirus report with a joke to bring a bit of joy during the pandemic; however, with so much recent  “stress and strife” all over the country, he made a decision not to on June 1.

“We pray for all victims of the virus and we should all hope and pray that violence is avoided at all times,” he said. “Everyone has a right to be heard and everyone has a right to express their opinions freely and openly without fear of being endangered.”

Further, McCormac said COVID-19 is a disease and to an extent so is racism.

“One has been around for a few months and the other for a few centuries,” he said. “Both need a cure. We are hopeful that scientists will provide the cure for COVID-19, but only a peaceful dialogue and discussions and understanding of each other’s positions will help to eradicate racism.”

A peaceful protest at Parker Press Park on Rahway Avenue in Woodbridge was scheduled for 1 p.m. on June 7.

Metuchen Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo released a statement offering resources to families to help with conversations about the impact of racism on June 3.

“The Metuchen Public Schools stand with those in the black community who face the pain and despair of racism,” he said. “We will fight to eliminate racism in our schools, in our community, and wherever it exists. Nelson Mandela [former president of South Africa] once said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.’ ”

Caputo said they will strive to ensure the Metuchen School District creates an environment where students can talk and learn from each other about the impacts of racism.

“We are fortunate to have strong leadership in Metuchen,” he said, noting Irizarry, Busch and Board of Education President Justin Manley.

At the beginning of the school year, the administration and board collaboratively set believe statements to the district’s priorities.

“Cleary stated is ‘We believe that a culturally-sensitive school climate in combination with career exploration and real world experiences best prepares students for success,’ ” he said. “We will continue to live what we believe and in doing so facilitate an open conversation that addresses racism head on and ensures we leverage the education of our youth to create a better world for all. We hear you. We support you. We will advocate for you.”

The resources include www.nctsn.org/…/racial_injustice_and_trauma_african, www.tolerance.org, www.healthychildren.org, www.nationalgeographic.com, www.apa.org/topics/talking-children, and https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/t…/community-violence/.

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