| By Greg Scharen and Alexander Heller | (Published on June 2, 2020)
Chants, songs and prayers filled the air on Monday, as people flooded the Asbury Park Post Office to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Words of prayer and unity were given by speakers that aimed to inspire the crowd to, “go home and do something!”
In a strong display of unity, people began to chant “Let us march!” With the entire crowd of protesters taking to the street, signs in hand, to have their voices heard. While making their way into the streets, Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” was sung from the Post Office steps throughout the crowd.
The protesters were not alone in their cause.
As the march moved towards the busy streets of Asbury, drivers stuck in traffic started recording the event on their phones with their fists in the air in solidarity of the protesters. Celebratory honks from cars and cheers from the crowd made the march more like a parade than an actual protest.
Some police officers began to walk alongside the protesters as well as kneeling in a show of support of criminal justice reform.
“It was a great experience seeing most of the cops take a knee,” said Hunter Woodworth, who drove over two hours from Bryam, NJ to attend the protest. “It was truly an all together moment and realization for a lot of people, cops included.”
Asbury was among the many New Jersey towns that peacefully gathered to call for an end to police brutality and racism. Officers in Toms River marched and kneeled alongside protesters as did many in Camden, Newark and Ocean City.
“I can honestly say that I’m happy to see my police force be active in my community,” one protester said. “It’s one thing to show up in riot gear, but it’s entirely different to walk alongside you in support of your community.”
Although New Jersey remains relatively peaceful, protests across the nation have been anything but.
Protests in New York and Washington, D.C. began to escalate into violence when officers and protesters began to clash. In D.C., peaceful protesters outside the White House were pushed back by officers and tear gas (per order by Attorney General William Barr) when President Trump decided to do an impromptu photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
In Atlanta, two black college students were arrested for allegedly “breaking curfew” with officers breaking the individual’s car windows, slashing their tires, tasing them and forcing them out of the car. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that the two officers involved were fired.
Although the mood that many feel throughout the country is anger and unrest, it seems that within New Jersey lies a peaceful beacon of hope for justice and reform.
Demetrius Johnson, a rising third year student from the University of Chicago, flew back to his home state of New Jersey to participate in the demonstrations in Asbury. Initially skeptical about the overall feeling of the protest, Johnson was pleasantly surprised about the experience as a whole.
“Lots of times when you see protests on the media it’s hard to understand the overall feeling of it all,” Johnson said.
“But when you’re there marching with people who feel as passionately as you,” he said. “It’s a magical and uplifting experience. It showed me that there are people of all races who genuinely care about black people. It gives me hope for the future.”
Some are even optimistic about Asbury’s impact on the national dialogue when organizing and dealing with protests as whole.
“I think we were incredibly lucky that brute force wasn’t used against us,” said one Asbury protester. “It’s the sad and horrifying truth.”
“However,” she continued. “Compared to the huge protests in Philly and New York, I think our little march will go a long way. When the police took a knee I knew we made an impact. It will be recorded as one of the peaceful ones out there and proves that freedom of speech can be practiced even when we’re protesting against black oppression in a racist country.”