East Orange addresses unrest among the black community

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Mayor Ted Green addressed the city with another virtual town hall meeting on June 4. This time, rather than focusing wholly on COVID-19, the forum addressed the other crisis America is facing; the frank conversation was titled “Peace, but Not Patience: A Discussion on Social Justice, Civil Rights and Empowerment.”

While informing viewers of the recent COVID numbers, with 2,014 positive cases and 201 deaths in East Orange, Green focused on the plague that has been corroding the nation since its inception — inequality due to skin color.

East Orange Police Chief Phyllis Bindi shared her feelings.

“Our diversity is our greatest strength,” Bindi said. “As a department, we get together and we denounce this heinous murder of George Floyd. In my 29 years of policing, I have to say this is absolutely the worst. We’ve watched this video from all angles. There is no officer I’ve spoken to who doesn’t agree. We all share the same feelings. We’re all hurting.”

The Rev. Dana P. Owens, pastor of Messiah Baptist Church, said her thoughts were tethered to the church.

“One of the key roles that we can play as pastors and members of our churches is to inform our community of the issues,” Owens said. “The church was to be the place where the news is shared. Our churches have lost a sense of community.”

Hip-hop group Naughty by Nature’s Vinnie Brown noted the changing landscape of the entertainment world.

“The hip-hop community is maturing to the point where it’s transferring into a lot of activism,” Brown said. “Hip-hop is mobilizing now. I think that in that maturity, we’re starting to realize that the jewelry guy, the Bentley guy and the Ferrari guy doesn’t mean anything because, when things like this occur, they’re nowhere to be found. We need to organize, to take these funds, reinvest in our communities. What we need most from our young people now is to go to school.”

The younger generation spoke to the things their peers should know about.

“I think that I would make sure my peers know their rights,” STEM Academy senior Anissa Jean-Pierre said.

East Orange Campus High School Student Council President Sage McPhatter-Davis agreed.

“I think we need to ask ourselves the question: What are we going to do in preparation for tomorrow?” McPhatter-Davis said. “Education and knowledge are so vital during these times. Understand what your rights are, you have to vote, know who those people are coming into office and research. The power lies in our hands.”

Second Ward Councilwoman Brittany Claybrooks recalled her own experiences.

“When Trayvon Martin was killed, I was an undergrad student at Florida A&M University,” Claybrooks said. “When that happened a lot of us wanted to spring into action. Some staged a 30-day sit-in in the capital for 31 days sleeping. We tried to get rid of the stand-your-ground law that allowed people to be shot just because. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, those kinds of killings brought that out. That’s when I came into this.”

Green shared his own feelings.

“We have been dealing with injustices against black and brown people for centuries, and justice cannot come swiftly enough for the officers involved in the tragic murder of George Floyd,” Green said. “People all over the world are outraged at what they witnessed at the hands of yet another police officer who broke his oath to protect and serve. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and enough is enough. Like President Barack Obama said, we need to figure out how to transform our anger and cynicism into meaningful activism and reform.”