GALLOWAY — Two local groups protested Sunday at the Galloway Municipal Complex against police brutality.
At 1 p.m., around 200 mostly young individuals organized by an Absegami High School student gathered in front of the township’s police station. A number of people spoke, separated by chants of “No justice, no peace!” The group originally planned its protest for Saturday afternoon, but the threat of thunderstorms forced them to push it back one day to just before the already scheduled 2 p.m. protest.
During the Absegami protest, members of the second group, Young Activists of Atlantic County, gathered in the field across the parking lot. As they did, Mayor Jim Gorman and Deputy Mayor Mary Crawford stopped by to introduce themselves to YAAC’s 18-year old leader, Irene Eigbe.
Eigbe, a Galloway native, is a sophomore at Stockton University studying biology. She and three friends were Snapchatting last week about their desire to get involved in the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody May 25.
They’re all 18 or 19, and although they wanted to protest, they felt traveling to events was difficult. After some back and forth, they created YAAC and organized Sunday’s protest. Irene’s three co-organizers were not comfortable being identified as such, so she acted as the group’s de facto spokesperson.
“It’s not specifically Galloway police,” Eigbe said. “We don’t think they’re as bad as other cops around America. We just want them to support us in getting these things passed.”
Eigbe handed the mayor and deputy mayor a collection of policies the YAAC would like to see implemented at the township’s police department. The core of these policies was taken from 8cantwait.org. They include a ban on choke and strangleholds, requiring officers to deescalate situations when possible, requiring officers to intervene when other officers use excessive force, and a requirement that officers give a verbal warning in all situations before using deadly force.
Both Gorman and Crawford said they were glad YAAC had organized the protest and agreed to talk more afterward.
“I think it’s good for our community,” Crawford said. “I think communication is key.”
Gorman agreed about the need to communicate.
“The police chief has been out in the community the last couple of years,” he said. “You can see today the dialogue is very good.”
Before the Absegami student protest wrapped up and began it’s march along Jimmie Leeds Road, Police Chief Donna Higbee walked over to introduce herself to Eigbe as well. She welcomed the group and said the police were there to listen.
At 2 p.m., with the first protest headed off, YAAC moved into the parking lot to begin. A little more than 100 people gathered, and a young woman sang “Amazing Grace.”
Eigbe then asked everyone to observe an 8-minute, 46-second period of silence in recognition of the time Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, since fired and charged with murder, spent with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. A few planned speakers followed, and then individuals who wanted to speak were invited forward. Nearly 15 people spoke to a crowd that numbered more than 300 once the first protest members circled back and joined in.
Councilman Frank Santo, a teacher, said that not only is the world watching, history is watching. He said one day in the decades to come, this moment will be part of the curriculum he passes on to his students.
One or two of the speakers called to scrap the police system as it is and start from scratch. Others were less drastic.
A young man recognized there are good cops but argued too many of them don’t say anything when bad cops do wrong.
Another person addressed the police gathered round the event directly.
“It’s up to y’all to fix it,” he said. “You’re in the system. Where are the good cops when it’s time to hold the bad cops accountable? You can wear the badge and still be on our side. We’re not against cops, we’re against police brutality.”
Higbee was given an opportunity to respond.
“We are here for you,” Higbee said. “I’ve been listening. We don’t like police brutality, we don’t like racist cops. The only thing we can do is come to work and show you what we do in this community. I’m angry, too.”
The crowd invited Higbee to take a knee with those gathered in solidarity. She declined but readily agreed to march with the protest as it left the parking lot to circle the complex nine times — again in recognition of the nearly nine minutes during which Floyd was under the knee of Chauvin — before heading out to Jimmie Leeds Road as well.
“We had people express their thoughts,” Eigbe said. “The police were really good at listening to what we had to say.”
YAAC will help another group organize a protest this month as well as donate bottles of water it had leftover to a group planning a protest at Stockton.
“We really want to continue doing this,” Eigbe said. “We want to find other ways to help besides just going out to protest, maybe by getting on committees in the area so we can voice our opinion.”
Anyone interested in joining future YAAC events can find more information on its Facebook page.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!