Jersey Shore community shows solidarity for George Floyd protesters amid local criticism
| By Christopher Connors |
Even little old LBI couldn't escape the historical protests currently sweeping the nation.
Over a thousand attendees marched across the Causeway Bridge in Long Beach Island in support of the national Black Lives Matter movement on Saturday, June 6.
Organized by Schneider Juste, 19, Olivia Sattan, 20, and Laura Esposito, 20 - three Southern Regional High School graduates – the rally showed solidarity with the recent marches that have cropped up across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin.
The event began at 10 a.m. with eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence in honor of George Floyd. The rally drew a crowd the Stafford Police Department estimated to be over 1,500 people. Cars crossing the bridge honked to show their support, with some brandishing signs. In at least one case, a man honked and gave the crowd the middle finger.
Below the bridge, the Manahawkin Bay was populated by boats, some of which held up signs in support of the rally. Officers from numerous local police departments helped with crowd control, ensuring the safety of the attendees.
“We never expected [the rally] to be this big. Initially we just thought it would be our friends, our peers and people that support us,” Chestnut Hill University student Schneider Juste said. “As the days passed, the numbers grew larger.”
While the crowd had been populated by a majority white crowd, numerous black speakers took to the microphone to share their experiences as minorities living in Stafford Township and the various towns that make up Long Beach Island.
Darnell Williams, a 29-year-old history teacher from Stafford Elementary School, lent his support to the cause.
“I am the first black teacher at Stafford so I thought it was important to come out here and make my voice heard and do the right thing. I’m blessed to be here. My students even came out.” Williams said of his sixth-grade students in attendance. “This is amazing. This is what you live for, this is what you want to see and you know, change is coming.”
The support of white allies in the crowd heartened Mr. Williams.
“It warms my heart that this is in a predominantly white community. That’s what we need to see. It needs to be across the board and all communities,” Williams said. “It gives me hope for our future and our future kids that we can finally see what’s been going on in our justice system, in our world, and it starts here. It has to happen in our own backyard for real change to come.”
The rally went on without a hitch in the Ocean County community - one of the few Republican strongholds in the state - despite concerns of violent counter-protestors. Over social media, a small number of locals had threatened violence – one man on Facebook claimed he would run down marchers with his truck and another stated, “I’ll bring my guns and bullets.”
On Twitter, people had mixed opinions about the rally. One user criticized the march in a predominantly white area stating that, “All the shoreline areas could do a lot more [to] make black folk feel more comfortable.” Other users were impressed by the size of the march in the community.
One user called hoax on the entire rally stating, “Not even one person on the bridge today – Fake BLM Protest Planned on LBI Bridge.” When shown video of the march, the user responded, “I don’t believe your hype,” and “glad to see it didn’t interfere with anything I planned today.”
The organizers worked with local officials to ensure the march wouldn’t disrupt traffic on what was expected to be a busy day as tourists visited the beach community.
“I think no matter the skin color, as long as you’re allies and they want to support, they’re welcome to it,” Schneider Juste said. “[We’ll] have strength in numbers. Either white, black, blue, purple, doesn’t matter what color you are as long as you’re supporting the cause and you know what’s right.”
For more on this story, contact Christopher Connors on Twitter @Chris_Connors