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Remarks by a Jersey City Board of Education Trustee in response to a column published on InsiderNJ has raised alarm and outrage from some city officials.
Trustee Joan Terrell, speaking as a private citizen, not as a board member, left an angry comment on Facebook after Lincoln High School Principal Chris Gadsden posted the story.
Terrell’s angry comments came at time when Jersey City is reeling from an attack on a Jewish grocery store on Dec. 10 but has given voice to concerns that have circulated among some residents of the areas.
The column published on InsiderNJ called “Faith and hope in face of Hate” covered a recent gathering of religious and civic leaders on how to address some of the growing tension between the African American and Jewish community, as well as the encroachment of new development making its way into the traditionally poorer neighborhoods from the wealthier waterfront area.
Mayor Steven Fulop said Terrell’s comments do not represent Jersey City or the sentiment in the community at all.
“The African American community has been nothing short of amazing over the last week,” he said. “Countless people have reached out to support their neighbors and express the sentiment that we are all working towards a better city together. It has been inspirational to see the community pull together and that is the Jersey City we all know. I’m saddened by her comments overall and the ignorance they demonstrate.”
Unfortunately, others claim Terrell’s remarks reflect the growing tension between the two communities, and that she appears to be one of the few public officials to raise these issues.
But the strident language of her post has alienated some who even marginally agree with her, coming within a week of the shootings.
Terrell asked, “Where was all this faith and hope when black homeowners were being threatened, intimidated and harassed by ‘want to buy your house’ bullies of the Jewish community? They brazenly came on the property of black homeowners and waved bags of money. Resistance was met with more threats of ‘we will bring drug dealers and prostitutes to live next door to you. You will sell to us then.”
Terrell claimed that black tenants were being evicted from homes owned by Jewish to make room for additional Jewish people to occupy and that a million-dollar campaign in New York encouraged Jewish to move into Jersey City.
Her post went on to raise questions about the loss of key programs in Jersey City that benefited ex-offenders and the loss of community gardens previously run largely by African Americans
“One still exists and has been harassed almost daily,” she wrote. “If we are going to tell a narrative, it should being with truth, not more cover up of truth. Dialogue is important, but truth is critical.”
She implied that city officials and community leaders appear to have turned a blind eye to the reduction of services, and claims that “drugs and guns are planted in the Black Community.”
“Mr. Anderson and Ms. Graham went directly to the Kosher supermarket,” Terrell wrote. “I believe they knew they would come out in body bags. What is the message they were sending? Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message? Are we brave enough to stop the assault on the black communities of America?”
Residents with kids in the school system were shocked and dismayed by the posting.
“I was outraged,” said Valeriy Verkhovskiy. “I’m a parent, those remarks are unacceptable should not have been mentioned. What does people moving into a neighborhood with a terrorist attack?”
Josh Sotomayor Einstein, a Jersey City resident, said Terrell is blaming the victims.
“This was anti-Jewish, and Joan Terrell needs to understand that there are extremists in every community, they can be black or white,” he said. “But she appears to be saying it was all right for these bad individuals to do what they did. She is trying to sweep naked bigotry under the rug and pretend to raise questions about gentrification. You can’t have socially acceptable bigotry. These were horrible people who did the killing and conducted a violent attack on a minority group.”
Natalia Loffe, a former candidate for the Board of Education, said there appears to have been unspoken agreement to suppress or acknowledge the antisemitic tensions going on in the city.
“You [InsiderNJ] were the only people to acknowledge the effects of overdevelopment on that area,” she said. “Everybody else seems to either blame the Hasidim or present the tensions don’t exist.”
Gadsden, a former councilman in Ward B, said there have been concerns about development in the poorer neighborhoods, and the impact on poorer people, many African American being displaced.
Gadsden was instrumental in the city’s passing “No Knock” legislation to discourage opportunistic real estate entrepreneurs from preying on poor people in these neighborhoods.
“What we want is people living in the city to have an opportunity to own their own homes and not have to move out,” he said. “Some of those coming into the city from other places are taking advantage of programs we want everybody to have access to.”
The “No Knock” law, he said, was designed to allow residents to be avoid being strong-armed
“This wasn’t about Jewish people buying property, it was about anybody coming in and trying to buy up property before people who live here have an opportunity to take advantage of programs.”
Gadsden said that in the lead up to passing the law, he and other city officials met with many of same community leaders who gathered recently after the shooting, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others.
“I think people are concerned about the narrative,” he said. “We have to consider other people’s views. Our goal is to bring folks together and ease tensions in the city. Those two people who did this crime were the poorest examples of humanity. Our goal is to understand all sides in our community.”
He said it wasn’t just Jewish people buying up property, but a number of people aggressively going around the neighborhood and the “No Knock” law was based on legislation passed in Toms River that set aside a geographical area where people could put up a notice not to bothered.
Gadsden said he heard the stories about how some of these opportunists offered residents “a suitcase of money.”
“We decided to build a coalition to talk about it, not just about the unwanted solicitation, but about home ownership and other programs,” he said. This included possibly setting aside land by the city and educating people about how to buy a home.
Terrell did not respond for requests to comment.
On Tuesday, Fulop called for the BOE trustee to resign.
Jersey City Counccil President Sudhan Thomas offered this:
“Trustee [Terrell-]Paig’s comments do not reflect the JCBOE outlook or value system. The JCBOE is home to 30,000 Students and 6,000 employees from various ethnicities, religions, cultures and sexual orientation. There is no room for any kind of hate or bigotry in Jersey City. I have been in touch with concerned citizens, elected official and faith leaders since Sunday evening over this matter. The post has since been taken down as of Monday, 08:30 am. We are in active communication with the Rabbi of Beth-El and other Jewish Community leaders to bring about some immediate term anti-bias and sensitivity training. Last year while lighting the 3rd candle during the Holocaust memorial I called for the establishment and or inclusion of a Jewish Culture / History and Heritage curriculum module In our Public schools. We will work in collaboration with the State DOE,the NJSBA (I serve on the board of the NJSBA as well) for this to become a reality. Trustee Paige’s comment do not in any way reflect the sense of the JCBOE in response to the terrorist attacks from last week which is articulated in my President’s report Pepa’s and circulated on 12/12/2019 last Thursday at a special JCBOE meeting.”