They came by the thousands to Asbury Park on Monday, not for the beaches, not for the music, or the restaurants; they came to protest the killing of Black Americans at the hands of police officers.
The protest, held in front of the post office, was just one of many throughout the United States and the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer one week ago.
The event was organized by Asbury Park resident Felicia Simmons and three others.
The protest began with city resident Kerry Butch reading off the names of Black citizens, including Floyd, killed by police and stating in succession, “We hear you, we mourn you…we will fight for you” as the crowed echoed her sentiments.
Chris Rockwell, former poet laureate of Asbury Park, reading from a spoken word piece, “a single match can burn down an entire forest…your voice can be a light to light up the darkness.”
He added, “White people, it is not just about us.”
Rockwell also spoke of the fear Black people feel every day and urged those in the crowd to confront racism when they see it at home and at work saying you do not allow that language.
“It doesn’t have to be ugly,” he said, calling for peaceful interaction.
He also said not all racism is obvious and told the crowd, “Watch out for subtle clues, that’s what it takes to dismantle White supremacy.”
Other speakers included a representative from the League of Women Voters who provided information about registering and voting by mail in the primary July 7 as a practice for the November 3 election.
At this time some in the crowd yelled “bust Donald Trump.”
Religious leaders offered prayers and a man with a rich baritone lead the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Simmons did her best to encourage social distancing to the assembly, many of whom were wearing masks, but the shear numbers left little room for any distance, let alone six feet.
Former Asbury Park Mayor Myra Campbell took the stage urging all to vote.
“There are people who do not want you to vote,” she said. “More votes help elect people who think like you.”
The restless crowd then began chanting loudly “enough is enough” and “George Floyd.”
Simmons pleaded for courtesy saying “We need to be united.”
The crowd continued “No justice, no peace,” before settling down again.
Asbury Park resident Lorraine Stone, a spoken word artist and the first female reporter at the Asbury Park Press, spoke to the crowd about self care, spotlighting the importance of a proper diet.
She spoke of “the knee on our collective neck” referencing the murder of George Floyd.
She urged the crowd to say out loud, “My life matters” before telling them to “take that home with you.”
Another of the rally’s organizers, Dwayne Small, read names of those who have died after which the crowd chanted “Black lives matter.”
“When we needed leadership in the White House, the lights turned off,” he said.
Small expressed the impatience felt my many saying the “time for talk is over, turn to social media…if you want change do something about it.”
Small said politicians, before they get the Black vote, need to have a plan for Black people and they should be held accountable.
“Don’t just keep White people accountable, Black people are accountable too,” he said. “Right now we are lost in hell.”
Simmons, on Tuesday, said overall she was pleased, although later in the night some protesters began throwing things at police and 12 people were arrested and released.
“To have 4000 people come here and have 12 detained but let go, that’s not that bad,” she said.
She also expressed concern about a police officer sustaining a blow to the head from a thrown rock.
Those events happened hours after the rally began and Simmons said she believed they were people who did not attend the rally but showed up later.
“There were no stores open then, you couldn’t even get a water,” she said. “There was not reason to be there.”
Mayor John Moor also said no property was vandalized. He complimented the early rally but was concerned about the later incidents when three officers were injured with one going to the hospital.
The rally lasted from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a large group marching to Springwood Avenue, then to Ocean Avenue and the boardwalk before heading back to Main Street.
But considering the violence taking place nationwide Simmons was happy with the event.
“I’m speechless, I’m overwhelmed by the love,” she said.
Simmons said organizers had two goals, come in peace and give participants something tangible to do moving forward.
On Tuesday the mayor and City Council released a statement.
“Unfortunately, there were a few incidents after the rally which resulted in arrests and injuries, including injuries to two officers from assisting agencies and an Asbury Park officer requiring hospitalization.
“We are disappointed in the actions of a few that tried to take our community’s peaceful protest in a different direction.”