By Anthony Garcia
Residents throughout New Jersey traveled to Asbury Park and held a protest on June 1 calling for police accountability and racial equality in response to the George Floyd killing.
Despite the protest’s message against police brutality, several protestors were arrested after a 9:30pm curfew, including two black teenage girls who were tackled and arrested by law enforcement.
The protest began on 801 Bangs Ave. at the Asbury Park post office building, where protestors led chants and gave speeches about injustice from the steps of the building. A march then circled around Main Street and continued down to the Asbury boardwalk.
“It was very inspiring and heartbreaking to hear from the community leaders talking about their personal experiences with racism and police brutality, and the constant fear they live in,” said Tori Tiefenthaler, a rising senior biomedical engineering major who attended the protest.
For the time that she was there, she said she saw no violence, having left before the curfew was enforced.
A police officer stood on a residential street guiding traffic and protestors. After he allowed the crowd to cross the street, he shouted at a couple who was standing in front of oncoming traffic yelling “pay attention” and “move out of the way,” in doing so the officer called attention to himself from the crowd of protestors.
But the officers’ actions did not make much of a distraction to protesters who joined to define a goal in the global response to the death of George Floyd: to change the consistent abuse of power by police who outwardly target Black Americans.
“It is sad and very telling that so many people, especially the media, are more outraged at the looting and rioting than the actual cause of the protests, which is a broken system that excuses police brutality and the profiling of Black people,” Tiefenthaler said.
When a crowd gathered at the protest at about 5 p.m., a protest leader called others to join her in singing “Amazing Grace,” which was followed by chants of “no justice, no peace.” As the crowd began their march to the boardwalk, a Black officer was holding up a peace symbol. This officer encouraged a woman to give him a hug.
When the march reached a railroad crossing, protestors kneeled in silence, mirroring the gesture originally used by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — and since the death of George Floyd came at the knee of a police officer, the action has taken on a greater meaning for many.
For Tariq Ali, a rising senior biomedical engineering major, the most impactful moment from the day occurred when he and other protestors encouraged police officers to take a knee with them.
“It was a great moment and feeling, that each and every cop along the walk we did took a knee with us,” he said.
Tiefenthaler recalls marchers pleading with officers to join them by taking a knee during the protest.
“The protesters stood before the police and chanted things at them, such as ‘take a knee,’” she said. “One Black officer immediately took a knee, but it took about 10 minutes of chanting for the rest of the officers to take a knee for a second. To me it seems like they were just trying to appease us.”
As the march continued, in order to let protestors cross the train tracks, officers stopped the train, lifted the crossing barriers and helped people under it to continue their march. Many protesters in return thanked and applauded the officers.
But after curfew came into effect, verbal exchanges between protestors and police ended in chaos.
“There was a mix of talking, arguing, with a lot of mixed emotions,” Ali said. “Feelings of hope and love, but also of anger and almost a bloodlust could be felt in the crowd, which was very unnerving,”
He said that protestors walked back toward an area where police from different surrounding counties were located to confront them.
“I am not condoning the violence (from protestors),'' Tiefenthaler said, “But if we do not have change now, it won't stop.”
Protestors were met with force by police and many were arrested, including a reporter from Asbury Park Press.
Asbury Park Press reporter Gustavo Martínez Contreras caught the scene on his livestream before being detained and later released on summons, he said on Twitter.
To many, the acts of the police officers that night further realized the need for change and left more with greater lessons in the end.
“I learned that change comes from protests,” said protester Giselle Washam, “and without them voices would never be heard.”