Protest march in Lawrence ‘not a moment, a movement’

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Marchers in the Generations for Change rally marched from Central Park to Gilpin Park.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Marchers in the Generations for Change rally marched from Central Park to Gilpin Park.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “No one’s free until we are all free,” and “No justice, no peace,” about 100 people marched from Central Park on Eggerts Crossing Road to Gilpin Park on Johnson Avenue in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood during the Generations for Change rally.

The goal of the June 20 rally was to continue to call attention to the death of Black men and women at the hands of police officers, and to encourage march participants to register to vote and go to the polls to make changes.

“Black lives matter. No justice, no peace. We have never seen anything like (these protests) in this country. We have had more than enough,” State Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer Hunterdon), told the marchers, which included Blacks and Whites.

“It has been 401 years (since the first Africans arrived in the colonies). When we first came to this country, we came in chains as slaves. It is 401 years and we are still not getting justice or equality,” said Turner, who lives in Lawrence Township.

“People say, ‘What do they want?’ We want justice and equality. We are not going to leave the streets until victory is won. This is not the 1960s,” she said.

“This is not a moment, this is a movement,” Turner said.

There is no stopping now, she said, as she urged the protesters to continue marching and protesting peacefully. The next step is to go to the polls in November and vote for the candidates they think will help them.

The state senator said she is doing all that she can in the State Legislature to support bills that would require all police officers to wear body cameras to improve accountability, and to ban chokeholds so that there are no more Eric Garners or George Floyds.

Lawrence Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt agreed that “this is the breaking point. COVID-19 exposed environmental racism, police brutality and straight-up racism. I am glad we finally reached the breaking point.

“Let’s make this a better place. Positive things have happened in the past, and positive things can happen in the future,” Bobbitt said.

Isaiah Coleman, who grew up in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood and who is the athletic director at the Christina Seix Academy in Trenton, said the Black and Brown boys who attend the school need to be shown love.

“We need to love one another – Blacks and Whites. Hate got us out here now. Love should be here,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the marchers have to educate themselves. The system is against them right now, and they need to build themselves up. He challenged them to use the power and influence that they have.

Autumn Vereen, who is 12 years old, told the attendees that she is sick and tired of hearing the words “I can’t breathe” as police officers choke Black men. It is sad to hear about young and old Blacks being put to death because of the color of their skin, she said.

“No Black person should be scared to walk out of the house, nor should we be scared to go on the road and get pulled over and shot. This is not America. God will work soon, but until he works, we need to work together,” Autumn said.

Listing the names of several Blacks who have been killed by police, Autumn said it is sad that they did not get to live life, even though everyone says, “Live life to the fullest.”

“They didn’t get to do it,” Autumn said.

Fred Vereen Jr., who is an activist and and who grew up in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood, outlined the history of the neighborhood and the battle to have its streets paved and utilities installed. The last street was paved in 1980.

Vereen also spearheaded the effort to build the Eggerts Crossing Village affordable housing development across the street from Gilpin Park. There was significant opposition to it when it was proposed and developed by a nonprofit group, which included Blacks and Whites. It opened its doors in 1974.

“You must have the same commitment into tomorrow. You must also encourage other people to vote. You need to run for the Township Council and the school board. You need to serve on the (advisory) boards and committees,” Vereen said.

Then the group paused to kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds as Lanny Butler Jr. and Karl Thomas read off off as many names as they could of the 280 Black men and women who have died at the hands of police officers.

Wrapping up the rally, Billy Chester, who is a retired Lawrence Township police officer – one of a handful of Black Lawrence police officers – told the crowd that “if you want something, you have to educate yourself. Go to the school board and tell them, ‘This is what we want.'”

“Don’t demand something just because you are Black. You have to be very well prepared if you want something done,” he said.

“Don’t let nothing stop you. Don’t settle. It’s up to you, if you have the passion or drive for something,” said Chester, who grew up in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood.