The unbearably disturbing treatment of George Floyd by Minneapolis police provoked demonstrations across America — and opportunistic destruction and looting that diverted attention from the issues raised by his death.
People took to the streets at the Jersey Shore too, their presence and voices adding to the demand for solutions to police brutality against African Americans. And some in Atlantic City also followed with vandalism and looting.
But while emotions ran high here, they also stayed impressively constructive. The peaceful outpourings of grief and hope — at times amazing in their spontaneity — easily overshadowed the criminal behavior of the self-interested few.
About 300 people chanted slogans last Sunday as they marched through Atlantic City and protested in front of the city Public Safety Building. They went to the ground for the time it took George Floyd to die, repeating his plea in vain that he couldn’t breathe.
But after the rally when night arrived, scores of people broke into stores and confronted police. Of the 18 people arrested on a variety of charges, 10 were from out of town — as far as Camden, Jersey City and West New York. Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner, a native of Atlantic City, said he was “extremely disappointed in those individuals and their attack on our city.”
Mayor Marty Small Sr., acknowledging the eight city residents arrested and the role of locals, rose to the occasion with words of tough love and leadership. “Let’s be honest with one another,” he told his lifelong community, “we’ve got to get our s**t together.” He said the city offers people many opportunities and some take advantage of them, but others don’t and then “cry woe is me.” The rioting left him ashamed, embarrassed and hurt, with “media from all over the world calling me because of what happened. And we let it happen.”
Small then challenged his residents to turn out the next morning to help clean up the city and many answered the call.
On Tuesday another 300-strong crowd organized itself on social media and marched from Somers Point to the police station in Ocean City — where protestors of Floyd’s death took turns speaking.
A young black man urged that “police got to respect us and we got to respect the police.” An older black woman suggested also marching to reduce shootings of blacks “by our own people.”
Two city police officers welcomed the marchers and honored the memory of Floyd. Sgt. Tyrone Rolls, who is black, said he understands racial prejudice issues from both sides: “When I take off this uniform, I deal with it.”
The heart-felt and spontaneous march to Ocean City, the peaceful demonstration in Atlantic City, the measured but firm response to lawbreakers there — all suggest that society here and maybe elsewhere is moving toward where it will finally find answers to racial conflict. They’ll become apparent when more awareness and understanding of each other leads to greater compassion and less ignorance and animosity.