Peaceful, Student-led BLM Protest Takes Place in Closter 

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Ohr Gutman, Staff Writer

Last weekend’s peaceful daytime protests in cities Newark and Camden made waves across New Jersey, and Closter’s student-led Black Lives Matter demonstration is a powerful testament. On Tuesday, June 2, students rallied around Closter Plaza. It is one of the first major protests to occur in such close proximity to Cresskill. 

The protest took place along a segment of Piermont Road in Closter from 2PM until 4PM. Students and adults from Tenafly, Cresskill, and neighboring Northern Valley towns lined up on the sidewalks with signs, chanting in unison. In an effort to respect the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the crowd was encouraged to disperse and group in multiple spots, and was reminded to keep distance from one another. All participants were required to wear masks. 

The largest gathering of protestors formed at the entrance street to Closter Plaza, where the biggest intersection in the area sees the heaviest traffic. All angles of the entrance were covered. 

Event leaders orchestrated chants with powerful messages, repeating “I can’t breathe”—a reference to George Floyd and Eric Garner’s last words in the face of police brutality—“Prosecute the Police; No justice, No Peace”, “Black lives matter”, and “Hands up, don’t shoot”—a phrase that originated from the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. Some of these sayings appeared among protesters’ signs, as well. 

They also took an 8-minute and 46-second moments of silence—the time George Floyd spent suffocated by now-incarcerated former police officer Derek Chauvin. Twice the participants put down their signs and knelt on the ground, and once laid face-down on the ground with their arms behind their backs. 

Passing cars showed their support by honking and raising their fists out of their windows—a prominent symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The protest was headed by Justin Han, a soon-to-be college freshman, standing alone with a Black Lives Matter sign. He posted on Instagram asking others to join him and word quickly spread. 

Roughly 200 people showed. Among those was Sarah Evelyn, a 19-year-old going into her junior year of college. She quickly became a key leader among the protestors. 

“I was so filled with energy and drive that I started to lead the chants and the direction of the protest,” she explained in an interview. 

Evelyn delivered impassioned speeches throughout the event, to which the crowd fell silent each time. She hopes that this protest and all the others help raise awareness and bring change. 

“People don’t like to talk about the negatives but we can never reach a positive and peaceful world if we don’t acknowledge what’s wrong with it,” Evelyn said. “The injustice that people of color, especially black people, face in America is atrocious. Our voices need to not just be heard, but listened to and understood.”

Though Evelyn did not directly organize this protest, she and others are currently planning to host a vigil for the victims of police brutality on Sunday, June 7, at 3:30PM. The location has yet to be determined, but the event will be accessible on Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, and Twitch streams for those who cannot physically be present. 

Evelyn emphasizes the Black Lives Matter movement’s intent to be here for the long-term, and hopes to see the same support shown from Closter on June 2 in the near and far future. 

“The effort to this cause that is being applied globally is such a wonderful thing,” she reflected. “However, this can’t die down. This can’t last for a week and then be done. It is a constant effort, energy, and time. We have to be willing to continue to push.”

Evelyn and Han’s enthusiasm and leadership attests to the power that passionate students and young adults can have in the world. 

“It’s a great feeling to know we’re pushing to make a change in our community. A lot of people believe you have to take the whole world on at once, but the battle starts at home,” Evelyn said.