Hamm 67-Mile March to Trenton Speaks to Far More than Police Brutality

The Rev. Herbert Daughtrey.
Hamm and his allies appear.
Hamm and his allies appear.
TRENTON – In this miniature era of social media mayhem, where people post pictures with thumbs up signs before rolling back to bed as an expression of social outrage, or storm the United States Capitol in minotaur headdresses of ignorant insurrection, Larry Hamm and his troops just quietly and persistently walked 67 miles for the cause they serve.

From Montclair to Trenton.

Not a lot of people watched.

But that was never the point.

There at the beginning, through the surge of outrage in the aftermath of each crime, and now surrounded by only diehards in unfashionable weather, Hamm strode into Trenton earlier today on the same mission he started back at Arts High School in 1970 – and even earlier.

Someone invoked Washington crossing the Delaware and surprising the Hessians here.

In Hamm’s case, he caught the New Jersey Legislature slumbering at the control panel of history, where he only very gently – but no less forcefully and in the best spirit of a true citizen’s campaign – nudged them.

Hamm, founder and director of the People’s Organization for Progress, wants the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate President to move legislation that would give municipalities the authority to create civilian complaint review boards with full subpoena power in order to keep an eye on the police and stem the possibility of another George Floyd police murder.

Those in attendance at the state capitol to welcome Hamm included activists Bill Davis and Kason Little.

A mood of celebration and even jubilation pervaded.

No grand headlines accompanied the event.

No crowds knelt in the street.

No one went berserk and occupied a battering ram on wheels.

Hamm knows how to do this.

His peaceful activism runs back to the Newark troubles of 1967.

Part of him hurts from having to march all these years later.

But part of him welcomes the gravity of camaraderie that comes when few are keyed in as they were in 2020, when it’s just the core impact players left in the street, that long road to a state capital ravaged by neglect where pimps cruise in broad daylight on a Saturday and the Gold Dome stands bubble wrapped in scaffolding of a renovation project without end.

The Reverend Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church, walked with Hamm and the caravan on the final leg of the journey.

“I couldn’t ride in a car for this,” he said.

At 91, he’s been at this work for a long time, too.

In the aftermath of the 1980-81 Catholic hunger strikes, he traveled to Northern Ireland in a show of solidarity. 1982, Daughtry founded the African People’s Christian Organization, which sought to create an African Christian nation by highlighting both African origins and biblical teachings. He worked as a special assistant to Reverend Jesse Jackson during his presidential campaign and accompanied him on his trip to the Vatican to advocate for a firmer stand on human rights. In 1991, Daughtry participated in Mayor David N. Dinkins’ delegation to South Africa, and met with Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Daughtry has also published several books, including No Monopoly on Suffering: Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights and Elsewhere; and A Seed Planted in Stone – The Life and Times of Tupac Shakur. The slain rapper joined Daughtry’s congregation when he was only eleven years old.

In 2003, Daughtry led a delegation of multi-faith protesters to Iraq, in a last-ditch effort to preserve peace in that nation.

Hamm was also a non-stop vocal peace activist in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

His anti-police brutality crusade goes back to the Vietnam era, to the Newark troubles that upended his city; and finishing the longest march of his life today left the old track and field star intent on the next frontier: ensuring in the next session the legislature’s passage and the governor’s signing into law the civilian complaint review board bill.

“First of all I am amazed and appreciative of the people who marched with me,” said the activist. “I really thought that after the first day I’d be marching most of the way by myself. That never happened. I never walked alone. People walked miles without being asked to do so. They had nothing to gain by doing so. It was a totally selfless act on their part.

“Secondly, I was amazed how easily the whole thing came together,” he added. “We put it together in a few weeks but it went down like it had been planned for weeks. It was almost like this was supposed to happen. It was all volunteer. We thought it would be a logistical nightmare getting the marchers back and forth from the march everyday. It seemed like it happened effortlessly. The support we received from our cosponsors and groups like SURJ-NJ and New Jersey Institute for Social Justice was outstanding. We didn’t have any accidents or major incidents.

“And I must comment on the assistance we received from the police. We did not ask for it but I must thank Mayor Baraka for the police escort we received, and the police escorts we received from the other towns and cities we went through. We moved seamlessly and without incident through 28 municipalities. The police we interacted with were very cooperative. My thanks go out to them.

“I hurt my leg after the first day after we marched 13 miles. By the fifth day I was really limping along. There was a point where I actually thought I might not make it to Trenton, but somehow I made it through. Finally, I must thank the members of the People’s Organization For Progress whose labor, resources, and support really made this happen. Power to the people!!!”

Somewhere someone posted an angry face on a Facebook picture of a cop beating up a guy, and somewhere else someone sharpened the horns on the Viking helmet he wore at the desecration of the United States Capitol, as Larry Hamm and his familiar yellow-shirted quietly-trudging soldiers – who started their march over a week ago in Montclair – walked into Trenton in the best tradition of dogged, unyielding and uncompromising nonviolent protest.

If the drug and poverty-ravaged city of Trenton hardly resembled an ode to democracy, the sedate and no less impassioned people who walked down State Street today to that all-but-unrecognizable giant wire-bound haybale of state civic heritage had more than just an inkling of the country’s buried greatness.

Someone watched.

All photos by Carina Pizarro.
All photos by Carina Pizarro.
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