By Cheryl Conway
Common it is now to hide behind a mask to protect against a virus, but when it comes to racism, there are a few hundred who face the issue head on after last week’s peaceful protest in town.
After two failed attempts to organize a protest in Mt Olive, a group still united at a peaceful gathering at Turkey Brook Park in Budd Lake to speak out against racial injustice in society and even in their own community. About 200 wound up participating at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, in a march that started at the park, ventured down to Rt. 46 and then through the Morris Chase development.
Like the world around them, the Mt. Olive community is juggling multiple issues right now but on the forefront is systemic racism. Those who originally tried to organize the local protest canceled their plans after faced with harsh criticism, lack of support and even some threats.
Despite the weeklong debate, the protest happened, may be the first of more to come and if anything is a step toward facing racism once and for all. Protests have been happening nationwide after a 46-year old black man, George Floyd, was arrested and killed in Minneapolis on May 25 by white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who stepped on his neck for eight minutes, 46 seconds, until he could not breathe, while three other police officers watched.
“We will not stop until justice is served and our voices are heard,” says Trinity of Budd Lake, who attended the protest. “More protests are needed because we need to show everyone that we are serious about this racial injustice. Through the law enforcement, to the community that we live in, to the schools we go to, racial injustice is everywhere, and it needs to end.
“The protests may not be trending on social media or on the news everyday anymore, but they are still going on and they are going to continue,” continues Trinity, a 2018 graduate of Mt. Olive High School. “This is not a trend. This is our lives and we deserve to be heard.”
Trinity, a rising junior who is studying biology at Hampton University in Virginia “which is an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and University), says “I did not decide to host it. I heard about it, and one of the organizers reached out to me to speak at it, however, they tried to cancel it because people were complaining about how the walk was from the Middle School in Mt. Olive to the police station which is a five minute walk and we would not be seen. I posted everywhere that I was still going to protest because it is our right.”
Originally three of her former MOHS classmates were organizing the protest but decided to postpone because they said “the police involvement in our protest counteracts the message of Black Lives Matter. We have decided to cancel the event and replan an event starting from scratch with the guidance and support of Black Lives Matter of Morristown to ensure we send a powerful message of solidarity with the black community and create an event that aligns with the values and message of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Another young man was planning on taking over the reins but also canceled due to threats from white supremacists, he claims on the community Facebook Page.
Since these individuals were threatened, Mt. Olive Online decided to not include their names in this article.
The Mt. Olive Police Department did not return phone calls to Mt. Olive Online regarding the planned protest.
While it appeared that the protest was canceled, now twice, some still forged on to gather in solidarity.
“A lot of people thought it was canceled, however, I put it on all of my social media platforms,” says Trinity. “I invited everyone. Everyone who supported the cause or who was black. Unfortunately, not all of those people showed up, however, a lot of people in general still ended up going. I even had my mom and some friends post about it, too.”
As her first participation in a protest, Trinity did not know what to expect but she knew the rules to enforce.
“I have never held any protests or participated in any, so this was the first,” says Trinity. “The only rule we had to follow while walking was to stay to the side or on the sidewalk if there was a sidewalk.”
Trinity, and the others involved did not seek any township approval, since that failed the first time around.
“The original organizers talked to the police and the mayor and the council members,” says Trinity. “The police were the ones that were trying to hide the protest. They claimed they wanted us to stay safe, but there are many ways to keep us safe. The organizers were told that they were only able to hold the protest from Mt. Olive Middle School to the police station, which is a five-minute walk. They did not want to do anything else. They would not listen to any other routes to walk, and I was not having that.
“A protest is about our voices being heard and us being seen,” says Trinity. “That route they wanted us to take would not have us be heard or seen at all. There are barely any cars that drive on that road to begin with, let alone during quarantine when everyone is home and everything is closed. I was also told that the council members did not want to hold this protest at all and they did not support it. The mayor also did not want the protest to happen, either. However, he knew we had a right to protest. No one in Mt. Olive wanted to have the protest, and many people got racist threats from others in the community because of it.”
“This was kind of a last-minute thing and no one had a set plan,” says Trinity. “It started at Turkey Brook Park. When I got there at 3:01 p.m., and it started at 3 p.m., many people were already walking around the park and protesting. I stood in the front and started protesting too and after about three laps, I told the others that this wasn’t doing much because no one could see or hear us. Me and many others started walking out of Turkey Brook and some were against it, but we kept going and eventually everyone followed.
“We took a left when we got out of Turkey Brook and walked to Route 46,” she explains. “We stood there for about 10-15 minutes chanting and holding our signs. A couple people driving by stuck their middle fingers up, but most of them honked at us and gave us a thumbs up or held up their fists in support of us.
“We then walked up to Madison Avenue into their neighborhood and continued to protest peacefully,” she describes. “People came out of their homes and chanted with us and recorded us and then we turned around and walked back up to Turkey Brook where a couple people, including me, spoke about the injustice in the world that we live in. We also had a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd.”
While social distancing is the order for now, Trinity say, “We did not social distance because we had to stay close together on the side of the roads, however, we all kept our masks on and when we had our moment of silence and speakers, people kept their distance from others.”
She was also not concerned about the outdoor limit of 25 people, according to executive order #148 by N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I was not concerned about anything,” says Trinity. “I knew that we had a right to protest and we were going to protest.”
As far as clean up, she says “There was no clean up needed. Everyone took everything with them at the end.”
While they were not notified of the protest, Trinity says “The police did attend. One police officer followed us the whole way and told us we can walk wherever just stay to the side. He was very helpful the whole time. Other police officers just drove by and blocked traffic in certain blind spots, so that we were safe and nothing happened. Only one actually interacted with us and that was the one that followed us.”
Stance On Racism
Clean up, social distancing, police and a large crowd were not Trinity’s concern. It was the issue of racism that mattered most.
“I participated and kept this going because our lives matter,” says Trinity. “There should be no reason that there is this racial injustice EVERYWHERE. In Mt. Olive, there are racist people everywhere. It was very prevalent when others started to get racist threats and on the Facebook page, Mount Olive Community Forum, there were also very racist people.
“It’s not that we are saying all lives don’t matter but all lives cannot matter until black lives matter,” clarifies Trinity. “Our lives are at risk every single day. Protests work and we needed to show to our community that we matter. We are black, but that does not mean we are less than others and they need to stop treating us like that. Not only here but everywhere.”
Those involved in the peaceful protest carry the same message.
“Our message is that we are humans, too,” says Trinity. “Our message is that we matter. The color of our skin is not a threat. The color of our skin is not a ticket to be shot or killed. That we should all be seen and treated equally.
“My mother should not have to be afraid that her children may not come home one night because they got pulled over by a police officer,” continues Trinity. “The police are supposed to protect and serve and they have not done that for the black community. We want to be seen as equal. Racism is taught and you are not born racist. We should be seen the same as everyone else.”
Her goal, like many others, is “We want to be equal,” says Trinity, who is biracial. “My mother is white and my father is black, however, I will always identify as a black woman. The color of my skin is black and I am black. I live in a world where people only see the color of my skin. This issue is relevant to my life. But at the end of the day, I love being black no matter who hates it.
“We do not want to be looked at as lesser than white people,” says Trinity. “We do not want to be treated differently as white people.”
This protest is the first of others to follow, and it is hoped that with every step, every march, every sign, this is the beginning of the end to racism once and for all.
“I feel as though the amount of people that showed up to a protest that many people thought was canceled showed people that we do matter and this isn’t just happening in other places,” says Trinity, who confirms that “Me and a few other people are trying to get another protest.
“This is happening in their own community,” she says. “Even though they can’t see it, it is happening, and I think a lot of people realized that we do want a change and we are serious about this.”
Trinity is not involved as an activist with any organizations or causes. Sine race issues have been concerning to her, she joins the fight to end racism.
“The protest was not connected to any other organizations,” such as Black Lives Matter nor Antifa, she says. “Just many people in the community wanting to be heard and make a change.
“The race issues are concerning to me because no one should have to be treated as less than another because they are not the same color,” says Trinity. “We are all humans and we all bleed red blood.
“Instead of judging me by the person I am, I, and every other black person is misjudged by the color of our skin,” concludes Trinity. “We are a threat to others because we are black, even though we are good people, and we are getting killed for it with no justice. Nothing is ever done unless it is recorded, or it goes viral on the internet. That is not how it should work. We should all be equal no matter what color you are.”
Reactions From Others
“I did not attend,” says Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum. “I was out of town with my family. I heard everything was peaceful. No issues.”
While Greenbaum admits to not supporting a protest in town, he says “I can’t stop a protest/first amendment.”
He had thought the protest was cancelled, but even so, decided to share his views on a Mt. Olive NJ Community Page after members of that Facebook page shared vile, hateful and threatening remarks against each other.
“People have asked me to speak out on the issue because of the fears, threats and intimidation which permeated Mount Olive NJ Community Forum webpage, which by the way has no connection whatsoever to the town,” Greenbaum writes.
“I thought long and hard about my speaking out at this very moment as I believe it will only fan the flames of hatred,” he writes. “My voice is no greater than those of the organizers and no less likely to get attacked. All you need [to] do is go to that stupid Facebook page and look at the venom spewed on me.
“No matter how I feel about the cause, I never wanted this protest in town,” writes Greenbaum. “It is divisive, and I guess in a way intended to be so to bring light to the issue. I have always tried to unite rather then divide the community.
“Many questioned my not closing the park when the protest was first scheduled,” he continues. “For the safety of the protestors and the community, the park presented an excellent location where safety could be maintained, rather than the protest moving to a commercial district or neighborhood.
“As to the concerns about social distancing and the spread of the virus which were raised, protests cannot be stopped, only attempts made to make them as safe as possible for all,” he writes. “The virus concerns would have been exactly the same in Turkey Brook or if the protest was held in the streets and neighborhoods of our town.
“I, like many, will never be able to truly know what it is like to be black in our society and to truly understand and/or appreciate the systemic racism in society,” writes Greenbaum. “What I do know is that our police department, since I have been mayor, treats all equally. I applaud the efforts of our department and can only hope that the events which have led us to this point, are a lesson to embrace and to avoid any conduct which could be viewed as based on race.
“As to many of the Facebook posts, I can only say that I was disgusted with the segment of the population that was vile and threatening,” he continues.
“Having said that, I don’t think many of the posters saw a distinction between protestors and those that acted in a criminal fashion destroying property, looting and setting fire to neighborhoods as witnessed by everyone on the news.
“Without those visuals, and the resultant fear for safety and property, I know there would have been a different response from the community to the protest,” writes Greenbaum. “I also am quite certain that the protests would have been peaceful and that the vast majority in town supported. We have had vigils in town for the massacre at the mosque and temple without so much as a negative peep from the community.
“Tolerance needs to be better practiced,” concludes Greenbaum. “I expected better from the community then what we got!! I can only hope that people act differently in the future.”
N.J. Governor Phil Murphy has been supporting the protests across the state, and even was criticized after attending two this past week. After marching in the Hillside Strong March to End Racism, Police Brutality and Embrace Diversity on Sunday, June 7, followed by a Black Lives event in Westfield, Murphy was condemned for going against his own executive order #148 he signed on May 22 which limited outdoor gatherings to 25 people. The protests have attracted hundreds if not 1,000’s of people.
Murphy’s support of the protests have been vocalized during his live daily briefings.
In response to his reasoning behind why it is ok to protest but not gather inside businesses, Murphy says during his Tuesday, June 2 briefing: “We’re trying to keep people alive. Given the gravity of killing and stain on racism in this country we have to acknowledge there is a desire and there is a right to peacefully protest.
“This is about a loss of life,” Murphy continues, that dates back to the beginning of the fifth century, “since slavery came to America and hole we continue to dig out from under.”
He did stress the need for all participants to wear a face covering, wash hands, practice social distancing and even get tested for COVID-19.
“It’s been side by side peaceful protests,” says Murphy. “Please wear masks, please try to stay away from each other. We don’t want this to reignite another wave of viral infections, that’s the last thing we need right now.”
As for the local protest, “It was what all protests should be,” said Charlie Uhrmann, founder of the All Veterans Memorial at Turkey Brook Park and All Veterans Alliance.
Uhrmann, who had happened to be at the AVM working on the property while the protest was happening says, participants “were very, very polite. Everybody respected each other, stayed in their lane. That’s how it should be.”