The “NJ2Baltimore” Die-In on Sunday, May 3, was possibly one of the first Black Lives Matter protests orchestrated by a cannabis organization, the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC). I had the idea to have a demonstration in support of Baltimore on Tuesday, the day following the Baltimore riots. Not wanting to have a white kid as the host for the rally, however, I co-organized the event with NJ Weedman and “Sharaud Sincere Norman.” The latter of the two black men became involved in the movement, not after Ferguson, but after his childhood friend Philip White was killed by police in Vineland, NJ, back in March 2015. Sharaud now lives in Tennessee, but he contacted Vineland citizens who were close with Philip White.
I planned on the demonstration being small, but the night before the rally I feared it was too small. I even had thoughts about cancelling the event because less than 70 persons responded on Facebook. My excitement for the protest dwindled after I took part in the massive “Philly is Baltimore” battle in Philadelphia on April 30, and the “Poor People’s Parade for Pot” in Camden, NJ, on May 2. Moreover on Friday, May 1, the six Baltimore officers were sentenced to trial, making the May 3 “NJ2Baltimore” rally seem unnecessary. But it was important enough to go on with the demonstration in order to criticize Gov. Chris Christie for sending 150 state troopers to Baltimore during the uprising. Additionally, I felt motivated to organize such a demonstration due to New Jersey’s lack of protests last December. For the Ferguson protests last winter, only three die-ins were organized in the state (all in Camden), and only one protest was held in Trenton.
I only expected half-a-dozen persons to attend the rally on Sunday, but I was delighted to see at least 20 persons come out. This included several of Philip White’s family and friends from Vineland, Karen Walden from “Decarcerate the Garden State (NJ),” and Leslie Mac, who I met a few weeks before during the “March2Justice” (a 9-day march from NYC-DC for Black Lives Matter). Marijuana activist Dave Archer and I waited with others at the Trenton Transit Center for an hour before NJ Weedman arrived with Jo Anne Zito, who brought two cardboard “coffins” with her that she made two nights earlier. Several journalists took pictures of us as we marched one mile from the Trenton Transit Center to the State House (the same route used during marijuana rallies), as we chanted “Black Lives Matter.”
The coffins without a doubt brought more attention to the small demonstration. Massive demonstrations occurred all week, but the tiny Trenton rally needed creative props to catch the attention of the media. During the 1940s and 1950s, when demonstrations were at an historical low, NYC radical pacifists used coffins as props to gain media publicity for their smaller demonstrations in regard to amnesty for WWII conscientious objectors, in opposition to the Korean War, and against the brutal Dominican Republic dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The coffins also complimented the planned Die-In at the State House.
When we arrived at the State House, several people volunteered to speak out. Speakers included Karen Walden of Decarcerate NJ, Vineland resident and White’s friend Becky Archie (who played a major part by contacting newspapers), a black professor, a homeless man who joined us during the march, a young black singer, a Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans Against War, and NJ Weedman. Weedman linked the Drug War to Police Brutality, and said his first protest ever was against police brutality back in the 1990s. “Here we are 20 years later and the same things are going on,” he said. (nj.com, may 3) After his speech, Weedman asked everyone to perform a Die-In on the ground outside the State House. I placed both coffins on the State House steps and performed the die-in for over four minutes beside Weedman and his dog “Cheva.” Intentionally or not, Weedman’s dog made the photos even more memorable, perhaps making it the first time that a dog participated in a die-in. The “dog-in” was equally significant in gaining attention for the protest. The article by “NJ.com True Jersey” was entitled: “NJ Weedman among those who staged a die-in on Statehouse steps.”
The Die-In turned out to be a big success. Newspapers are always willing to cover die-ins, which is why the “NJ2Baltimore” gained so much publicity. By pure accident, another New Jersey rally in support of Baltimore took place the same day, hosted by the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) in Newark. Nearly 60 persons attended the Newark rally, but it gained less news coverage because it didn’t include creative props or the die-in method. Nevertheless it worked out well that both protests landed on the same day and both received press coverage from different newspapers. (Newark rally covered by “PIX 11 News”) The NJ protests were small, but at least the state was included in the national protests that occurred that week. Perhaps other organizations in the state can become involved in the future.