BLM protesters, police stand side-by-side at peaceful N.J. demonstration

Posted Jun 05, 2020

Rain Friday evening didn’t stop several hundred people from gathering in Bloomfield at a peaceful demonstration that saw Black Lives Matter activists and police officers side-by-side to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The planned march was held in conjunction with local police and began at Bloomfield High School before ending at the Bloomfield Police Department. Officers watched as speakers captivated the peaceful audience, including a Black township resident named Miles who told a story about a time he was pulled over on Bloomfield Avenue. He and his white friend, he said, were treated differently by police.

“That’s when I finally realized that racism is real in America and in Bloomfield,” he said.

Another protester, Nathaniel Lewis, urged the crowd to work together to correct systemic problems.

“We all have room for more growth, more progress," he said. "We must be better. We will be better.”

Matt Arnold, along with Lewis and Austin Tirador, organized the march, and Arnold said the police department played a role in effort.

As protests popped up around the country in the last week, Arnold, a 25-year-old Bloomfield resident, said it felt like a responsibility to make something happen in his hometown.

“What drove me to do this — I’m not like an activist or anything like that — I woke up every day thinking, saying, ‘Damn, I have to do something,’ because I personally just wouldn’t feel good,” Arnold said. “So it got to that point, and it got to that point where I said, ‘You know what, I need to do something, and I know that I have powerful voice to be able to get something done.’”

In addition to the activists, Bloomfield Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio, who took over the department in 2014 after a long career in Newark, addressed the crowd on a bullhorn. He got a round of applause when discussing the department’s policy of tracking racial data on every vehicle stop its officers conduct.

“It identifies problematic officers early,” he said to claps and cheers from the crowd. “Not after the fact.” DeMaio also thanked the protesters for supporting what he called a “worthy cause” and for remaining peaceful throughout the demonstration.

In the early 2010s, Bloomfield was the focus of several high-profile incidents in which officers severely beat men who were in custody, and later paid out large settlements to the victims of those incidents.

It has since then, its leaders have said, been working aggressively to correct police misconduct, and DeMaio and Bloomfield Mayor Michael J. Venezia both spoke about that progress. But several speakers at Friday’s protest spoke about continued instances of racial profiling by the police department.

The large crowd Friday also spoke of other high-profile police killings, including that of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. At one point, the crowd sang happy birthday to Taylor on what would have been her 27th birthday.

The protest was one dozens held over the last week following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several others held on Friday included “White Coats for Black Lives” demonstrations outside several New Jersey hospitals in which doctors rallied to support the cause.

There have been dozens of protests against police brutality in New Jersey since last weekend, as protests and marches over Floyd’s death have continued to spread across the nation.

The four police officers at the scene of Floyd’s death have been fired, and one, Derek Chauvin, was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case. Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting, while Chauvin’s charge was upgraded to a second-degree murder Wednesday.

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