The largest Black Lives Matter demonstration in New Jersey took place on July 25, 2015, when nearly 1,500 activists covered the steps of the Courthouse and the Lincoln Monument in Newark. Over a hundred social justice and religious organizations endorsed the “Million People’s March Against: Police Brutality, Racial Injustice, and Economic Inequality.” It was also endorsed by politicians, such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and City Council President Mildred Crump, as well as prominent individuals like Dr. Cornell West. Groups involved included The Justice League, a NYC group that I worked with in April during its 9-day march from NYC-DC; Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, one of the leading social justice groups in Philly; and National Awareness Alliance, headed by Walter Hudson, who organized the Bridgeton rallies for the police shooting of Jerame Reid. But People’s Organization for Progress (POP), a grassroots Newark group, served as the main organizer of the event. POP’s Chairman Lawrence Hamm, who previously received the key to the city in Newark, led the action at full speed. I first met Hamm in Bridgeton in February, when both of us were ticketed along with Walter Hudson for picketing in the street during a Black Lives Matter protest for Jerame Reid.
The rally, which began being organized in January, was meant to focus on the Charleston 9 shooting in June, but the public anger stemming from the unjust police killing of Sandra Bland in Texas only two weeks before the event, was no doubt partially responsible for the massive turnout. Most signs demanded justice for Sandra Bland and many other black victims of police brutality, especially NJ victims Jerame Reid and Kashad Ashford.
Hundreds began gathering outside the Lincoln Monument around noon, with the top steps and entrance platform being sealed-off for VIP’s only. Organizations endorsing the event set up tables and banners all around, while unions and politically leftist groups distributed their publications. Lawrence Hamm and other began making speeches around 1:00. Due to the wide endorsement of the event, speeches by various organization heads continued until at least 3:00. Thus thousands of people sat underneath the blazing hot sun for at least three hours, with little or no shade in sight. On top of that there was only a single vendor across the street selling water. Nevertheless, people were in high spirits due to the large turnout.
No more than a dozen police were present at any one time, but from a distance they could be seen on the crowd-control-horses. No hostility developed between demonstrators and police. According to Politicker NJ, Police Chief Anthony Campos said to Hamm prior to the march: “If there’s anything you need, call me. I’m going to be around all day. Whatever you need, we’re here.” No doubt this was influenced by Hamm’s leading position, who has consistently sought peaceful relations with police at most rallies I’ve attended. To ensure the peace there were various Black Panthers and NOI-type guards patrolling the rally and parade, while several police officers controlled traffic.
The march launched from the Courthouse, up Market Street, down Broad, reached the Federal Building, and then turned back around toward the Courthouse. The march took at least an hour because of the large size. During the march I carried the banner for Philly Coalition for REAL Justice and spoke with member Betsey Piette. The sidewalks were filled with enthusiastic bystanders, many of them minorities, who cheered and joined in with the chants: “No justice, no peace, no racist police” – “Black Lives Matter” – “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now” – “Hands up don’t shoot” – “Jail racist cops.” All in all the march was a huge success precisely because it involved hundreds of organizations from various causes. Moreover, the timing of the rally provided a much needed outlet for Black Lives Matter supporters and activists.