NEW BRUNSWICK – Amid the bodegas and liquor stores and loitering human spillover on the sidewalk corners here, palpable, purposeful joy trailed the leaf blowers and broom sweepers on this Saturday morning as Lady C spun the raps that had people literally dancing in the streets.
It’s been a painful passion play, without end.
In the months following Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd, Tormel Pittman lived up to his name as one of New Jersey’s leading activists, taking his longstanding anti-police brutality fight to the streets.
But Pittman’s fight is multifaceted and today, against the national backdrop of the Chauvin trial, he revved up a leaf blower and marched down Seaman Street in New Brunswick with a nonviolent community army with him, sweeping and scrubbing and cleaning.
The monumental task at hand is bigger than police accountability, unto itself crucial and fundamental – but just as critical is society’s fight against substance abuse, as more often, police interaction revolves around drugs in some way, Pittman said.
InsiderNJ found him under a welder’s-style COVID-19 mask in a break in the action.
“We want to give inspiration to those on street corners who suffer from substance abuse to clean our lives,” said the community leader, based in this New Jersey university town. “We want to send a subliminal message to clean our lives as a way of lowering the risk of a negative encounter with law enforcement. We want to come to the most impoverished neighborhoods that suffer from the most substance abuse and help keep their area clean and maybe they may start thinking different.
“Everyone here cleaning loves them and cares about them and they do have help,” said Pittman, as several men danced in the middle of the street to the raps emanating from the van commanded by Lady C.
What was Pittman’s impression of the Chauvin trial?
He hasn’t watched too much of it, admitted the man responsible for bringing George Floyd’s brother to New Brunswick in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.
But he said he sees positive developments.
“You have a law enforcement agent that basically told the truth,” in reference to brass admissions on the witness stand that Chauvin used improper force. “I do know this one trial is not going to change [everything]. We need long-term correction and oversight. This is a step in the right direction. There was a captain who admitted that this wasn’t proper protocol.”
He does not connect Mr. Floyd’s substance abuse history to Mr. Floyd’s death.
Chauvin knelt on his neck.
But Pittman said he wants greater community engagement – hence today’s statement.
“One-thousand percent, if his knee wasn’t on his neck, he would still be living,” he told InsiderNJ. “We want to hold the officer accountable but we also don’t want to ignore the substance abuse he was dealing with. I’m trying to fight on both ends.”
We need deeper and more long-term substance abuse treatment for people, he said..
“Just like the rapper DMX, who just died, it’s not just coming home from a drug program and thinking you’re okay,” Pittman said.
For InsiderNJ’s full street interview with Tormel Pittman, please watch below: