As protests and riots continue across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, protests have spread to the suburbs.
In conjunction with marches in Philadelphia, towns across South Jersey saw residents come together to voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Berlin Borough joined that group on June 5 with a protest organized by two freshmen at Eastern Regional High School.
Friends Payton Crew and Laura Conner took to Facebook and Snapchat to find individuals interested in joining them to hold signs at an intersection alongside Berlin Park, at Berlin-Cross Keys Road and Park Drive.
“We’re here because we want to stand in solidarity for those who have lost their lives to racial inequality in this society,” Crew said. “It’s important that, even in a small town like this, you can support important causes.”
“It’s important to have conversation and listen to other people’s perspective and how they feel,” Conner said. “We need to not be angry at each other, but listen and get to understand where different people are coming from.”
Crew’s mother, Ingrid, also came out to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest in favor of better treatment by police of African Americans.
For Ingrid, the topic hits close to home.
“My brother was killed in June of 1999, after he was shot 27 times while unarmed,” she recalled. “Twenty-one years later, we’re still here protesting for the same thing, trying to ask to be treated more humanely.
“Historically, black men in their interactions with police have ended badly in many cases.”
Ingrid said that two decades ago, her brother was driving a female coworker home when police followed him, believing he may have potentially kidnapped her. Following the incident, Ingrid protested for six years regarding various causes, from changes in community policing and interaction to charges against the officers responsible for her brother’s death.
Now, more than two decades later, she finds herself again protesting those same issues.
“We, as black people, have to be vigilant and we have to be a voice to make people understand that we matter,” Ingrid said. “Everyone matters but it seems like black lives don’t always matter. If we’re living and regarding each other humanely, it shouldn’t matter. But yet, we still have to stand here 21 years later.
“If we break the law, there’s a process,” Ingrid added. “But oftentimes it seems like we never get to the end of the process because we end up in the ground.”
Sarah Spellman, a Medford resident, was also a part of the protestors holding signs at Berlin Park in support of Black Lives Matter. She said her goal, in short, was to help at least one person driving by the protest to think more critically about police brutality and promote positive change.
“I know a lot of people might not have the time to do it, but if I can just get one person to think about this situation in a different way by holding this sign and being here, then it was worth it,” Spellman insisted.
“I know it can sound corny sometimes, but I think grassroots stuff like this is really important.”
Chief Millard Wilkinson and other officers from the Berlin Police Department were at and around the event to ensure both a peaceful protest and the ability of residents to have their voices heard.
“We’ve been tracking down when and where events like this are taking place online, and then we reach out to the organizers to offer any assistance to them that we can,” Wilkinson said. “They’re more than welcome to have their protest and speak their mind.”
Speaking about the death of Floyd and the civil unrest it sparked, Wilkinson said the Minneapolis officers’ actions were unforgivable.
“That isn’t what [Floyd] deserved,” Wilkinson added. “It was incredibly wrong. Nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop, for obvious reasons.”
Berlin Borough was also planned as the site of a protest by Cooper River Indivisible, a group for Camden County residents that supports election work, community organizing and other issues.
The group was to hold a protest at the Berlin Borough Municipal Building at 7 p.m. Friday, weather permitting.