Bloomfield holds vigil for George Floyd

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In mourning for George Floyd, the black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 26, and in a show of unity with those protesting for social change and an end to racism, Bloomfield held a well-attended townwide vigil on May 30 via Zoom.

“We are here gathered for a solemn occasion. We are here in remembrance of those that have been lost and I think looking for community in trying to figure out ways to work together, to strategize and to move forward as a community to be stronger as we’ve had these lessons,” Councilwoman Wartyna Davis said, opening the meeting.

The vigil was conceived, planned and executed all within 24 hours, which made Mayor Michael Venezia even more pleased to see so many residents attend.

“This has been the probably toughest time as mayor, not only dealing with the pandemic but a difficult time with civil unrest and just trying to strengthen the community as one. Let me start off by just offering my condolences to the family of George Floyd. This murder speaks to the centuries of racism that exist in our country,” Venezia said before listing more than a dozen black men and women who have been killed in racial violence in the past few years. “Being white it’s impossible for me to fully understand the hardships and struggles that a person of color has and how often they are treated differently just because of the color of their skin. Not being able to experience does not change my disgust for what continues to happen.”

Venezia stressed the forward momentum of the Bloomfield Police Department to address any issues and to prevent an incident like the one in Minneapolis from occurring here.

“I know that we still have more changes to make, and our commitment is that we continue to work hand in hand as a community and as government to make sure everyone is treated the same, whether you are black, white or Latino,” Venezia said.

“When a situation like this happens in the law enforcement community, it’s probably more troubling to us than anyone. We work so hard to create policies and procedures in our police departments to make sure that people are treated with dignity and respect every day in every situation,” Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio said. “ I don’t think I heard one person in the nation in law enforcement have one thing positive or trying to defend what happened in Minneapolis. It’s just a terrible thing, and there is absolutely no excuse for it, and it enrages the police officers just as much as it does everyone else.”

Freeholder Carlos Pomares, a former Bloomfield councilman, described New Jersey as one of the most diverse states in the country and Essex County as one of the most diverse counties in the state.

“It is important that we leave here as one people who respect what differentiates us,” Pomares said. “We need to really embrace one another and come together to denounce these wrongdoings.”

Local faith leaders participated, including Cantor Meredith Greenberg from Temple Ner Tamid, who sang a Hebrew song for peace, and the Rev. Ruth Boling from Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green.

“I would like to begin by expressing my outrage and horror at the crisis on top of the crisis that we’re looking at now,” Boling said in reference to COVID-19 and racism. “And now to have earlier ills and the consequences of our deep-seated racism rear its ugly head again nationwide is just kind of mind numbing.”

As a rallying cry, Boling cited a hymn that states, “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.”

“I never thought that my children would have to face some of the things I’ve faced from discrimination and segregation and the police brutality, and it is a time that, if we’re not careful, we can almost lose hope in America, in what it’s supposed to be standing for,” the Rev. Vernon Miller of New Light Baptist Church said. “This is not a time to give up though. This is a time to continue to press forward to stand up for what is right.”

Bloomfield Civil Rights Commission representative Maurice McLaughlin stressed the importance of prayer and how pleased he was to be gathering with the community in prayer.

“I’m heartbroken and appalled to be here today about something like this again. But the flip side is we’re very glad to be living in this community. It’s a community rich in its diversity, but also rich in people of goodwill,” he said. “Please remember that all of us walk a difficult road. Have empathy for each other, be kind to each other, remember everyone takes a different road, and when you’re praying remember that the same god hears us all.”

Bloomfield College President Marcheta Evans spoke tearfully of the effect this is having on her students, 90 percent of whom are black, saying “right now they are beaten down.” She encouraged the Bloomfield community, especially its leaders, to reach out to her students and to come to campus.

“I really came on tonight because I need to have my soul replenished,” Evans said.