Hundreds of people would gather around the tercentennial fountain in Heritage Park in Cranbury to participate in a candlelight vigil for George Floyd and other victims of police violence and racial discrimination.
Individuals and families of every age, race and nationality took part in the vigil as sundown occurred on June 14. Attendees were brought together by Princeton High School junior Isabel Sethi, who organized the peaceful protest.
For Sethi, viewing the death of Floyd while he was in police custody, was the moment when she knew she could not be a bystander as people pushed for reforms on policing and racial discrimination.
“Watching the now infamous George Floyd video, the video of his arrest and subsequent death was really the catalyst for me. Law enforcement officials are expected to serve and protect citizens yet they killed one of their own with so much indifference,” Sethi said. “They did not care that he said he could not breathe; they were more annoyed with people asking them to stop. I knew whatever small way I could contribute I needed to do that.”
Attendees at the vigil located near the entrance of Heritage Park on South Main Street included residents from Cranbury, Princeton, East and West Windsor Township.
“On a national scale this is just one protest. The many different protests happening in counties across the United States are growing and allowing for this larger movement to occur,” Sethi said. “I hope my way of gathering people up showed that we want to move forward to greater change.”
She added that the youth in America play a pivotal role in the current movement because they will become America’s next leaders.
“We need to keep this momentum going. Before there would be just isolated outrage when a black man was killed,” Sethi said. “A couple cities or urban areas would have protests and then after awhile they would die down and then lose popularity. We need to keep up the pressure to move ahead on reform and change police practices.”
The candlelight vigil was co-sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action and the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice. Organizers estimated that more than 250 people were in attendance during the evening.
During the vigil, speeches would take place, a “Why I’m protesting” board was available for attendees who wanted to write on a sticky note their reason for protesting that was then placed on the board, people also created signs, and had used their phones for QR codes (barcodes) taped to the sides of trees that directed them to Black Lives Matter resources.
“I have marched with Cesar Chavez. Everyone getting out here today really shows support for the cause. I would hope that continued demonstrations won’t be needed because I worry about the other side characterizing the protests as violent,” said Kit Murdock of East Windsor.
Speakers for the vigil included Princeton High School science teacher Joy Barnes-Johnson, Cranbury Mayor Matt Scott, chief activist Robt Seda-Schreiber at the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, Princeton University professor of African American Art History Chika Okeke-Agulu, parish associate for the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury Rev. Joanne Petto, and Rev. Bob Moore of the Coalition for Peace Action.
Princeton resident Brenda Bray said that she had come to the vigil after what has transpired nationally the past few weeks.
“If I have an opportunity to come listen and see the people that are out to support Black Lives Matter and work against racism I absolutely want to be a part of that,” she added. “When you see every different race and age of folks coming out to these demonstrations you have to believe that this moment right now has got to be the one to make a difference.”
Sally O’Grady, of Cranbury, said she attended the vigil to help show strength in numbers and unity for black lives.
“To see so many young people is really positive. Having so many people join us here in Cranbury from various towns is also very positive,” she added. “We need to get the authorities to follow through on the change.”
As the light continued to fade in Heritage Park, candles were lit and phone flashlights were on as the closing out of the evening event finished with final remarks.
“I hope today inspires other young people. They too can create change in their communities and that they do not have to wait for someone else to do it,” Sethi said. “More importantly everyone should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. This should not just rest solely on African Americans. We should all be banding together.”