NORTH BRUNSWICK – “Enough is enough.”
That is how Bishop Calvin Enlow of New Destiny Family Worship Center in North Brunswick began the “Healing for Our Nation” community conversation he organized on June 5.
“I have been praying all week that this would serve as a healing platform for our communities and throughout our nation,” he said via the livestreamed discussion. “Enough is enough. If we are in the generation that is going to eradicate systemic racism, we need prayer, we need conversation and we need action.”
Enlow brought together a lawyer, a healthcare worker, the mayor, the police chief and a pastor to discuss ways to address racial injustice in North Brunswick and across the country.
Natalya Johnson said there are two pandemics simultaneously hitting the United States: the first, COVID-19, is a public health crisis that is disproportionately affecting the black community; and the second is ongoing racism, bigotry and institutionalized oppression.
Describing herself as a civil attorney and a Christian, she said she has been grappling with how she can get involved in a tangible way, as she has seen the legal community “mobilize with specificity and immediacy.”
As part of the Garden State Bar Association, she said attorneys are working with different entities to represent protesters, have convened forums with stakeholders about how laws can change moving forward, and have researched various legal defense mechanisms to push for criminal justice reform and social justice reform.
“Your involvement really can take so many different forms,” she suggested to the public.
Johnson said blacks make up a higher percentage of those in the penal system because blacks lack representation. She said there need to be more opportunities for individuals who are indigent or those with low economic status to be represented. She said bail reform and minimum sentencing laws are also needed.
Dr. Tracey Enlow, an anesthesiologist, has been working on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis. She said that for the past three months, “I’ve seen the pain, I’ve seen the struggle, I’ve seen so many people come in in anguish with COVID-19.”
She said she has never felt so much uncertainty and anxiety, but in the past few weeks those feelings were heightened with the release of a video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn., police officers.
She said her husband, Pastor Dariaus Enlow, the bishop’s son, was so affected by the video that she decided to watch.
She said as a healthcare provider, she took a Hippocratic oath to care for all patients, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation.
“When I saw that eight minutes I was just devastated. I just could not understand the brutality of it. And I’ve seen death; I see it almost every day, I work in an operating room, I see people in that situation – but to just watch and realize the amount of pain that was going on, I just couldn’t sit back and not speak anymore,” she said.
Tracey Enlow addressed the inequities in access to healthcare, especially for blacks, and said CEOs of hospitals are beginning to recognize those inequities.
“I want to show the power of protest, the power of people coming together to make that change all around the world,” she said.
She said “any kind of racial injustice is a public health emergency” and that “we have to recognize the disparities. Sometimes our memories are short.”
Calvin Enlow said he called upon North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack for ways to heal the community and Womack was ready and willing to join.
“I have been mayor for a long time, but this is the first time in my life I felt a true and absolute sense of obligation,” Womack said during the livestream. “This is an obligation as much as it is an obligation to draw the next breath. An obligation that we find a way to make the necessary changes in our society.”
Womack, 63, said he was born in 1956 in Greenville, S.C., but grew up in semi-rural North Carolina. He said until the third grade he attended segregated schools. He said he would pass a school for blacks during the bus ride to school each day. But he said as a child, you don’t really think about it.
“In retrospect, we know how terrible that segregated system was,” he said.
He acknowledged that even people close to us have racist tendencies at times.
“We all do; if we don’t admit it, we’re not being honest. There are seeds there,” he said. “The murder of George Floyd is the proof we have a long way to go.”
After so many years since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Womack said, “we haven’t gone forward as fast or the way that we should.”
“We always tried in North Brunswick to reflect the kind of community we are,” he said, noting that the town is one of the top in New Jersey in terms of diversity. “Our strength is what should be the strength of all of us: our diversity, our unity.”
Womack said he signed the Mayors Pledge designed by former President Barack Obama related to a call for action, ways to engage the community in sharing their stories, ways to report those findings to the community, and the necessary reform of use of force policies.
He said he is confident North Brunswick Police Director Ken McCormick and North Brunswick Police Chief Joseph Battaglia will make that happen.
“We have to make sure none of us are quiet until there is justice for all of us,” Womack said.
Enlow responded to Womack’s words by saying, “It sounds like North Brunswick is making some immediate changes. I like the transparency.”
“We have to ensure the decisions we make at every level … the things we do reflect who we are. That means our hiring, that means our training, that means our leadership,” Womack replied.
Womack explained that North Brunswick is a civil service town, meaning employees fill out an application, take a test, get scored and then get put on a list; military veterans have priority. He said sometimes diversity does not come into play.
“We have a way to go to fully reflect our community in the hiring of the police department,” he said.
Enlow said he has suppressed feelings from years ago from dealings with police officers. He asked Womack what he would say to people with hurt, to which Womack commented that the best he can do right now is hold someone’s hand and keep his mouth shut, since he is groping for the answers.
Enlow then called in Battaglia, mentioning how police chiefs in some cities have marched and kneeled with protesters.
“I think right now we are all hurt and saddened by what happened in Minneapolis. It was disgusting. I couldn’t watch it either,” Battaglia said.
When asked how someone like Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, could stay employed despite 18 complaints and three gun charges being lodged against him, Battaglia said that although he can’t speak for that police department, in North Brunswick administrators “pride ourselves on picking the best” and train officers constantly.
He said any Internal Affairs complaints, such as for use of force, is through an early warning system: “we discipline, train them, try to change their attitudes” and if not, try to get rid of them.
Enlow asked Battaglia if he could comment about two police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., who were seen on video pushing a 75-year-old male protester to the ground during an event in that city. The police chief and more than 50 of his officers resigned from the emergency response team after that incident in support of the suspended policemen.
“Any action by a police officer other than a professional action is frowned upon,” Battaglia said, while noting he had not seen the Buffalo video.
He said his mother always says “new broom, clean sweep” and perhaps it was a good thing the chief “and 57 of his buddies” were gone.
He said it also speaks to the culture of that police department if its officers believed it was OK to attack the elderly.
“We would never tolerate that so when you hear those things, I’m as shocked as everybody else,” Battaglia said. “It surprises me that some of those people still exist.”
Battaglia said that 34 years ago when he joined the North Brunswick Police Department, it was not diverse. He said he would like to think he was instrumental, as PBA president, with a fellow sergeant at the time, in changing the complexion of the department, and he said he is proud of the diversity of the police department today.
“We are willing and able and open … to move this police department forward,” Battaglia said.
When Calvin Enlow asked if the “blue shield” protects police officers, Battaglia said there is a perception out there, but it’s not true.
“Here in North Brunswick there is no blue shield and I can tell you most of our discipline comes from within,” he said. “These guys, they are professionals, and when they step out of line, we step them back and we do what we have to do.
“If we have to terminate somebody, we do it; if we have to discipline somebody, we do it. And I stress to my men that you are just as bad as the criminals if you stand by and watch an officer do what they did in Minnesota and don’t act. You’re just as culpable.”
Battaglia said North Brunswick was one of the first police departments to implement the use of body cameras and patrol car cameras. He said any complaint is reviewed, the video is watched and it is addressed up the chain of command.
He also said he implemented the policy that if there is a consent to search on the street, a supervisor must go to the scene and ensure the patrol officer has probable cause to search.
In regard to training, Battaglia said it can always be better and a department can always do better, and he is open to change.
He also said he agrees with the idea of police unions, since unions work toward benefits and salaries, and also give patrolmen the opportunity to have a say in change. He acknowledged that if the wrong people are in power, the union could be self-serving.
Dariaus Enlow then offered his evaluation of the situation. He explained how racism means you think your race is superior, vs. just having. He also said Black Lives Matter does not mean that white lives do not matter, but that blacks are trying to say their lives matter just as much.
“I think people of color, based on what has been promised to us, what we have been told, you know we hear a lot of things and that sounds good on paper, they color the airwaves and they make us feel good, but I think the challenge, the challenge now for America and the system and the powers that be, the system that America has created, is to now cash the check that says all men are created equal and black and brown people in this country for years have been trying to cash that check and it’s been coming back void and insufficient funds, as Dr. King would say,” he said. “And so you hear all the talk and you hear all the great ideas and now is the time for action.”
He said when Chauvin took a knee, it caused the world to stand up.
“We have to engage, fully engage, fully engage this moment. This is our generation’s Emmett Till moment,” he said. “We need compassion and we need empathy. … You can’t understand my cultural context if you have never been one moment in my shoes.”
He reminded viewers America was taken from the indigenous people and built on the backs of slaves. He said slaves were released into society without education or economic power and galvanized into ghettos. There were drugs dealt in neighborhoods, but then blacks were persecuted for drug offenses.
“We have now come to this moment in time … this incredible eruption where now is the time where we have been saying that racism and unfair practices and policies have existed and has really gone unnoticed by the powers that be, by white America, by men in power, by women in power, and now the Floyd moment has changed everything in terms of the awareness that hey maybe we need to rethink this, maybe there is.”
He cited the Bible, in which one of Jesus’s 100 sheep wanders off and Jesus leaves the 99 to gather the one. He said the African American community is symbolically the lone sheep: one race among many races, but that which needs caring for, not to say other communities are not valuable.
“We can change the narrative and take back the misrepresentation of our people,” he said.
“I think we are in the process of healing one another so we can have a better tomorrow,” Calvin Enlow ended with before Dariaus Enlow led a final prayer.
To view a recording of the discussion, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GS1DEpgIALc
For more information on New Destiny Family Worship Center, visit http://www.newdestinyfamily.com
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.