Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of downtown Newark on Saturday to protest the police killing of George Floyd who died earlier this week while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer.
Chants of Floyd’s name as well as “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and the names of others who have died in encounters with the police echoed off of the buildings surrounding Market Street in the city’s downtown, just a few miles away from Seton Hall's South Orange campus and blocks away from the University's law school. Several buildings had their retail spaces shuttered in anticipation of potential violence and looting, which has plagued several major U.S. cities over the last several days in the wake of Floyd’s death.
The protest, which lasted roughly four hours, remained relatively peaceful in contrast to other major U.S. cities.
Protesters in Philadelphia, which experienced its first Floyd-related protest today, clashed with police, burned store fronts, shattered the windows of City Hall and lit several police cars on fire in the city’s downtown area on Saturday afternoon according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. As of press time, at least four arrests had been reported in the city.
Several other cities, including New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, also experienced similar violence Saturday.
In Newark protesters were joined by Mayor Ras Baraka, who spoke to protesters and organizers from the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) beforehand and led marchers through the city’s downtown.
At the steps of the Newark Historic Court House, POP Leader Larry Hamm urged the crowd to use their voices to inspire change rather than violence and advocated for the installation of a civilian review board in Newark.
“If you really want accountability, we need you to call the state Supreme Court on Monday,” Hamm said, “Every village in this state and in this country should have a civilian oversight board for the police.”
Adil Ahemed, a lawyer who served as a legal observer at the protest for the People’s Organization for Power on Saturday, discussed what he felt organizers and the city did correctly to avoid violence at Saturday’s gathering.
“Well if you look at all the streets that are blocked off its just space people can occupy. It's very easy for people to move around and occupy space,” Ahmed said. “This whole area is free of traffic.”
“It's open and people can congregate. They can talk and they can say anything they want and spread whatever message they want to spread. I think that's a big part of it,” Ahemed said, noting that police blocking off roads could have helped contribute to the tame environment.
“Also, the cops aren't in it. They're actually interweaved throughout. I've seen a bunch, they're plain clothes,” he added. “They are out, but they're just sort of observing, but not like yelling at anyone or anything. They're not agitating anyone but just being present.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @nickdotkerr.