NEW BRUNSWICK – Wearing a black mask emblazoned with a fist and the words “I can’t breathe” over his face, and a Yankees cap on his head, the brother of the late George Floyd came to New Jersey today to march with members of the Black Lives Matter movement and their allies, and to express opposition to the police brutality that extinguished his brother’s life on May 25th.
“I want to give thanks to everybody out here showing love; everyone who came out here to show love,” said Terrence Floyd, who walked with New Jerseyans from Feaster Park to City Hall in downtown New Brunswick.
“I appreciate you all,” he added. “You know, Biggee [Smalls] said ‘spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.’ Well, I’m saying ‘spread love, it’s the Floyd way.’ That’s what my brother was about. If he were here he would say, ‘I love you.’ All I’m going to say is the same thing. ‘I love you’ all – from white, black, brown – it don’t even matter. If you got love for me, I got love for you. I’m thankful to you all. Black lives matter but it needs to matter to us. It won’t matter to no one else until it matters to us.
“We’re not nig*rs,” Terrence Floyd said. “We’re not bi*ches. If one of your boys comes up to you and says ‘What up, nig*r?’ You don’t have to answer because that’s not who you are. You’re not a nig*r, you’re a king. You’re not a bi*ch, you’re a queen. If we call ourselves that, the other man is going to call us that too. It’s not just a statement, it’s a lifestyle. Love is love. Peace, everybody.”
Tormel Pittman, the New Brunswick-based Black Lives Matter leader, organized the event, and manned the bullhorn on the slow walk through the coke can-crushed streets of this Central Jersey university town. He’s been at this for ten years, and at the forefront here since the police killing of George Floyd this past spring.
“The reason why we’re here is to continue to fight for families that have been fighting, like Eric Garner‘s family, like George Floyd’s family,” said Pittman. “Forget the months that everyone was going crazy. We’re going to keep fighting. These are not people who are here for the moment. These people are here for the movement.
“We’re going to change some things,” he added.
While welcoming the mostly soft-spoken and love-messaging Terrence Floyd, Pittman (who attended a Somerville BLM rally a week ago) and his local allies also drove a hard message, and at times a specifically tough New Jersey message.
Zayid Muhammad of Newark was among the speakers who stood in front of City Hall with Pittman, expressing his outrage and impatience at the establishment in his home state, not to mention politicians at the federal level. “This is the time to become fully engaged,” said Muhammad, 45 days until Election Day. “We are at the doorstep of fascism. It’s not a place where we want to go. Donald Trump must go. Racism and fascism must go. Mitch McConnell and Bill Barr and all those racist crackers must go.
“The time has come to shut this shit down,” he added. “Shut them down.”
Then he leveled his attention at New Jersey.
“Right here in Jersey,” Muhammad said. “Jersey’s got shit to do. Jersey’s got some shit with it.”
He cited Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s formation of a civilian complaint review board.
“A civilian arm to be in control of the police,” the activist explained. “The first thing he did was put in place the strongest civilian compaint review board in the whole God damn country. We took it into court – the New Jersey Court of Appeals said it’s all right for Newark to finally have that.”
Then the state Supreme Court overruled the decision.
Muhammad blamed, in part, the Police Benevolent Association (which earlier this month issued a formal
endorsement of Trump for president). “There’s a charge I need to give you,” he told the crowd. “We need to build a stop police brutality united front, up and down the highways and byways of this racist state.
“Get in this governor’s behind,” Muhammad added. “I know he’s a liberal Democrat – get in his punk behind to get in this attorney general’s punk behind. Get in [Gurbir] Grewal’s behind because Grewal set this shit up. He’s smiling at everyone right now. The so-called legislators? Get in their behind. Ask them – where are you on a civilian complaint review board? where are you on independent investigations? Where are you on that? And if you’re not on the right side of that, then maybe we need to get your behind out of the way and get somebody else.”
The crowd was not huge but it was vocal and supportive.
“Where are you on qualified immunity and on banning choke holds,” Muhammad said. “Where are you on these questions?”
Again, if elected officials can’t answer, “Maybe we ought to get these people out of the way,” he suggested.
“Raise hell,” he exhorted, and noted that people are “ready to take this God damned country from these crazy white people. Fight capitalism with socialism.”
Pittman took back the microphone from one of his two mentors who spoke at the rally. “He had the nerve to actually tell me to calm down,” said the event organizer.
Then he yielded to Larry Hamm, who ran for the United States Senate this year in the Democratic Primary and lost to U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.). A legendary Princeton-educated nonviolence and peace and justice activist, Hamm has been on the frontlines fighting police brutality since the late 1960’s.
“What do we want?” he shouted.
“Justice,” the crowd yelled back.
“When do we want it?”
“There ain’t gonna be no justice,” Hamm railed.
“There ain’t gonna be no peace,” the crowd returned.
He cited the names of the fallen, including George Floyd, and expressed his honor to be in the presence of Terrence Floyd.
“The movement against police brutality is alive in New Brunswick,” said Hamm. “Justice is not a civil settlement. You cannot put a price on a life. If you ask Breonna [Taylor’s] mother if she would prefer $12 million or her daughter, what would she say?”
“Her daughter,” the crowd roared.
“Justice is not arresting an officer, charging him at the precinct or being on trial or the conviction,” Hamm said.
“You know what justice is?” he demanded. “It’s killer cops in prison, just as you would be in prison if you killed somebody.”
He started a chant: “Jail the killer cops. Jail the killer cops.”
The crowd chanted with him.
“I don’t know what people are celebrating,” he added, referring to the case of former Police Officer derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. “He hasn’t gone to trial yet. Just because he’s going to trial does not mean he’s going to be convicted.”
In the crowd, behind mask with a fist on it and the words “I can’t breathe,” stood Terrence Floyd.