HILLSBOROUGH – The Interfaith Community Action Network advocated for racial equality at their recent virtual vigil in honor of George Floyd.
The coalition created three years ago after President Donald Trump established a travel ban used the forum to allow their religious leaders and government officials around Somerset County to speak out about justice reform and closing the racial divide.
Rabbi Arnold Gluck of Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, hosted and moderated the event that was streamed live on June 7 through the online platform zoom.
According to Gluck, there were more than 520 people who registered to watch the vigil and around 470 people at one time were watching the event.
Gluck opened the vigil by speaking out about Floyd’s death, which has made it clear that the time for action is now to stop police brutality and horrible acts of racism, he said.
“The emphasis of ICAN is to always take action,” Gluck said in an interview. “All life is sacred. All beings should be declared first class. Our community needs to stand up and demand justice.”
The vigil came on the day that ICAN was initially set to hold its Community of Diversity and Culture event, which has been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Jennifer Cho, reverend of the United Methodist Church in Bridgewater, first brought up the idea to conduct a vigil to her fellow ICAN colleagues, Gluck said.
The rabbi said that all the governmental and religious leaders involved with the coalition jumped in and stood united on the message of taking action for justice and peace.
Religious leaders who participated in the vigil were:
Pastor Keith Schenck – Shiloh Pentecostal Church, Somerville
Ardaman Singh, Sikh Community of Somerset County
Tulsi Maharjan, New Jersey Buddhist Vihara
Imam Rizwan Rizvi, Masjid-e-Ali, Somerset
Rabbi Dan Selsberg, Temple Sholom, Bridgewater
Gautam Puppala, Basking Ridge Indian Community, Chinmaya Mission Tristate Center, Cranbury
Pastor Todd Buurstra, North Branch Reformed Church
Dr. Ali Chaudry, Islamic Society of Basking Ridge
The keynote speaker of the vigil was Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson. Robinson, who was named the first African American freeholder for Somerset County in 2018, called for sustained and intentional efforts to continue after protests, marches and sit-ins conclude.
“What’s the next step?” Robinson asked. “What can people do to contribute to change at every level of our legislation? There is so much to be done and we all have a role and a responsibility to make sure that happens.”
Robinson spoke about the need for equality and equity for African Americans in areas of justice reform, education, housing and finance when interviewed on June 8.
The Somerset County freeholder director said that black people have the same dreams and aspirations as white people and that the African American community wants the same rights and privileges as them.
Robinson believes we can do this together but that everyone must do their part.
Because of the work of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the direction of leadership in the state, Robinson is very optimistic and believes the state can come together on the cause.
Robinson herself said that the “light has been shown” around Somerset County in regards to the relationship between the “police and black people.” Organizations like ICAN are also important in helping create change, she said.
“People affiliated with ICAN are already doing the work to push for change in legislation,” Robinson said. “My hope is that we can continue to work together and be committed to making that change. It’s time for action.”
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker of the 16th Legislative District echoed Robinson’s message for change later on in the vigil. Zwicker commented in an interview the following day that people want to see change and it needs to be done soon.
“People want to see change in our society,” he said. “They are angry with the brutal murders they have seen done by the police community. It’s going to take action from everyone to change institutions that are racist. We need to be willing to do the work needed to make change happen.”
Both Senator Kip Bateman and Assemblyman Roy Freiman from the 16th Legislative District participated in the vigil. Assemblyman Joe Danielson of the 17th Legislative District and Rep. Tom Malinowski of the 7th Legislative District each spoke during the event as well.
Grewal himself also took part in the vigil as speaker.
The Attorney General was introduced by Somerset County Prosecutor Mike Robertson and mentioned that “we have a long way to go in this country.”
He touched on some of the progress that has already been made and initiatives that are currently in the works. This includes policing reforms such as crisis intervention and de-escalation training for officers.
Reforming the state’s use of force policy, coming up with a framework for evaluating police licensing, and utilizing community response teams are initiatives that were also mentioned by Grewal during the vigil.
Grewal said that New Jersey, for too long, has been reactive and moving forward we need to be more proactive.
The police licensing proposal will be voted on later this month and Grewal is in favor of its implementation. If passed, it would go into effect later this year.
Grewal believes that these practices place New Jersey at the forefront of policing reform and hold law enforcement in the state to a standard of professionalism, transparency and accountability.
The vigil included a musical selection performed by Dee Wilson called “The Medicine” and ended with eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of Floyd.