They came from all over.
The message, brutality against the black community, which led to the unfathomable death of 46-year-old George Floyd, would not be tolerated anymore.
And fortunately for everyone involved, the protest June 4 at Kearny Town Hall, which afterward became a march along Kearny Avenue north to Laurel Avenue and finally, Police Headquarters, remained peaceful throughout.
That notion was possible because though they didn’t have to — after all, this was a protest mostly about the cops — the Kearny Police Department met with organizers and did everything within their power to ensure there was no violence, looting or rioting here as there had been in so many large cities across the country in the week prior.
After the meeting with organizers, the Kearny Police Department’s Command, through Public Information Officer Capt. Timothy Wagner, issued a strong statement, and it was one whose message was loud and clear — and that clearly made a huge difference the day of the protest.
The meeting and statement were both necessary after incendiary remarks organizers made on Twitter before the protest.
Here’s how the statement, crafted by Wagner, read:
“KPD command staff had a productive meeting today with … the organizer of Thursday’s planned peaceful protest. (The organizer) expressed to us her goal, which is to give local folks — particularly younger people — a peaceful and safe platform from which they can be heard. We are in full support of that right and stand ready to assist however we’re needed.
“(She) also addressed some recent inflammatory social media posts that have been spreading today. (She) assured us that these sentiments were made prior to her experience organizing Monday’s peaceful march and they no longer represent her views. (She) has issued her own statement to that effect. Those posts should not detract from the overarching goal of ensuring a safe and peaceful venue from which local residents can express themselves.
“We want all to know that (the organizer) and the Kearny Police Department are working hand-in-hand to make this a successful and peaceful exercise of our Americanism. We look forward to standing up the Town of Kearny, its young people and this police department as a model of community-police partnership for the whole country to emulate.
“We look forward to seeing this community shine tomorrow. #kearnyproud.”
Indeed, this desired peace was achieved.
Estimates had the crowd somewhere between 300 to 500 protestors.
Among them in attendance were Mayor Alberto G. Santos, First Ward Councilmembers Albino Cardoso and Marytrine DeCastro, Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, Forth Ward Councilmembers Susan McCurrie and Jerry Ficeto and Kearny Business Administrator Steve Marks.
Deputy Police Chief Scott Macfie was present at the rally as were countless other members of the Kearny Police Department. The chief of the department, George King, was at HQ during the rally, having had minor hand surgery just a few days prior. He was joined by Wagner and other members of the staff to monitor the protest from Laurel Avenue. A few Hudson County Sheriff’s Officers were at HQ, also.
Town Health Officer Ken Pincus was also on hand with Nellie Albizu and several other Health Department employees handing out free disposable gloves and masks to those who didn’t have them. Almost every person at the protest wore the protective gear. Pincus and company also handed out water to those in attendance on a rather hot day that topped out at around 88º Fahrenheit.
DeCastro was the only member of the council to sport a homemade sign, which paid homage to the reason everyone was gathered in the first place — Floyd, the man who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he lay on the street at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020. The sign also had the message “Black Lives Matter” among other things.
Floyd had been in police custody after a clerk at a store believed he’d been passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
Among the speakers at the protest was Santos, who used a megaphone so that all who were assembled on Kearny Avenue, which was blocked off by the police, could hear him properly.
“Right now, I’m very proud of my community,” Santos said in unwritten remarks. “We know why you’re here today and that’s what started this movement around the country. It was an individual whose name is George Floyd. So let’s say his name right now. ‘George Floyd.’”
At that moment, those assembled repeated his name.
Santos went on.
“As you march, remember why you’re marching and walking together — the memory of George Floyd, a man who died unjustly because of the color of their skin. Remember why you’re here — it’s about racial injustice. …If you do, this small community will shine, not only in this state, but in our country.”
Santos then noted that Kearny is strong because it is diverse. As is the town’s Police Department.
“We have a diverse police department. We have a police department that is involved in the community on a daily basis. They interact with our community. This is the model that every police department around the country should follow.”
He then noted the “de-escalation” that took place between organizers and the Kearny Police Department prior to the march. To those who said that shouldn’t have happened, Santos said, “We should be coming together. George Floyd. That’s why we’re here.”
Unlike at many other protests, the mayor here was cheered loudly after he spoke.
One of the few other speakers who took to the bullhorn was Elijah Hughes, a young black man, a realtor, who lives in Bloomfield and who works in Montclair. He spoke with passion.
“We are here because we are angry. We are here because we are fed up,” Hughes said. “That doesn’t mean you have to act out of character. We are not here to do any harm to this city (town.) We are here to make our voices heard because enough is enough. There is systematic racism in this country that has been flowing since its birth.
“This country was built on the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants, especially black people. That has been taken for granted since that day. Our people have been marginalized and taken for granted and treated unfairly.”
Hughes then made it clear — the protest wouldn’t have happened had the death of Mr. Floyd not been caught on video.
Otherwise, “They wouldn’t have believed a word he said,” he said.
Lastly, he said, “Some jobs just can’t have bad apples. If a pilot decided, I’m just going to crash today, you can’t have that. When doctors mess up, they lose their license … it can be taken away from one mistake. We are asking for accountability. That is all we’re asking for. What is so hard about that? If you kill someone at work, you go to prison, so why does a blue uniform make that any different?”
Still, despite the calm at the protest, there are some who believe that while it’s important to protest at times like these, when four bad cops killed an innocent man, it’s still important to remember — yes, there are bad apples on police forces. But they are not the norm, they’re the exception.
“We support our police here knowing they do the right thing and give so much back to our communities,” Lisa Feorenzo, The Observer’s co-owner, said. “Given how loud protests have been, it was something else to watch our officers stand there when much of the message was about police. They stood there. They took it all in. And that could not have been an easy task by any means.”
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.