FRANKLIN TWP. – A rural Gloucester County rally supporting the Black Lives Matter movement Monday is likely among the nation’s more modest showings in the weeks following a black Minnesota man’s killing in police custody.
The rally — just 60 people on the shoulder of NJ Route 47 in Franklin Township — became one of the loudest protests in America after footage of men on private property along the march route went viral for reenacting George Floyd’s police-involved killing in front of protesters.
Before the viral news of the re-enactment — one man kneeling on another’s neck — rally organizers and police agreed the march was peaceful.
Saturday, another rally will go on, following the same route, past the same private properties and with the same mission: peace.
“I heard from multiple people they got their real first sense of community,” Daryan Fennal, the Monday’s protest coordinator, told the Courier Post.
“I’m grateful for the people who were in the peaceful protest. We were moving forward.”
Fennal, 21, is a Wilmington University nursing student about to transfer to Rutgers-Camden. She’s also a mother to a 1-year-old son.
“I want better for him,” she said.
That’s why she spearheaded Monday’s demonstration, the second to hit the township in a week.
Students with Delsea Regional High School’s Black Cultural League were the first to demonstrate in the township on June 5 in parking lots of the Fries Mill Road school which serves Franklin, Elk and Newfield teens.
Saturday, a third rally is set. Its organizer Beverly Meritt demands nothing but “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful” demonstration.
“Peace is all we seek,” she told the Courier Post ahead of the rally.
The 1.7 mile June 13 march revisits the route where the viral videos were shot Monday.
Meritt said her plans for Saturday’s march were already in motion before Monday’s events.
It starts at 11 a.m. at the Franklin Township Library on Coles Mill Road, hits Route 47, travels south to the Franklin Township Police Department headquarters and back, according to the organizer.
It will again cross the firewood-filled lot of James DeMarco, where the Floyd killing re-enactment took place amid a backdrop of Trump banners and handmade “all lives matter” signs.
Franklin Township police are investigating a small fire on the property Wednesday. Stacks of firewood near the road were involved, according to reports.
In a statement Tuesday denouncing the acts on DeMarco’s property during the protest, police officials said there would be an investigation to ensure no crimes had been committed Monday.
One man, a FedEx employee, was fired for his alleged involvement in the private property act. Another, a guard at adult and youth prisons, has been suspended for filming it.
Franklin Township, resident Aundriel Dawkins’ home town, should have been the most comfortable place for her kids to express their views, she said.
The mother of four says she’s joined at least 10 demonstrations in the region in recent weeks.
“I didn’t want to bring them because I didn’t want them to be in any danger,” Dawkins, a 2003 Delsea grad said.
Her children — a daughter, 15, and son, 12 — had begged to go to their town’s march, she said.
“Franklinville would be the safest option. It would be safe and they wouldn’t see anything,” Dawkins explained.
Her kids were joined on the march route by other teens from town and several local educators, she said.
In a live video posted to Dawkins’ Facebook page, business owners on Delsea Drive hollered back to to demonstrators “all lives matter.”
Then, they passed the DeMarco property, twice.
Once on the way to the police station.
Adn again on the way back, when one man knelt on another’s neck and yelled “if you don’t comply, this is what happens,” to protesters. Other voices on videos shot from the property called out “Black lives matter — to no one.”
“I am genuinely afraid after this experience. It was the first one where I had my kids with me, and I didn’t think it was going to be what it was,” Dawkins said.”I think it’s extremely sad that people who live in the same town as me and my kids feel this way about me and my children. That’s really really disheartening.”
As the third protest approaches, Meritt admits she’s worried those who intended to march might be scared off.
“Beverly is not going to be intimidated,” she said.
“I’m having a protest. We just want justice. We want to be treated fairly. We just want them to understand. We are the same.
And we’re not saying that blue lives don’t matter. We’re not saying white lives don’t matter. We need you to understand black lives do matter.”
Like Fennal, Meritt is a Delsea graduate. She was raised in Franklin Township and her five children attended its schools.
Three of her oldest children are in the military.
“I sleep well at night knowing the’re not in Franklinville,” the mother said, her voice cracking, then breaking down to tears.
“They’re fighting for something they never had – freedom.”
The rural Gloucester County town, she said, hasn’t changed since her sister, a black tennis player, was allegedly left out of the high school teams’ photos in 1976, Merritt recounted.
Meritt skipped her senior prom in 1985 because “being black girls, we were told it was something we weren’t wanted at,” she said.
“It hasn’t changed,” Merrit said.
“When we hear ‘this is not Franklinville,’ please don’t say that to me. It is who Franklinville is. It’s just been concealed.”
Monday’s viral video, she said, “revealed what has been concealed.”
Township Mayor John Bruno, a Republican, and the all-Republican township committee, signed a public statement Tuesday condemning the reenactment of the Floyd killing before protesters, many of whom were minors.
“This is not who we are as a community,” the statement said.
Bruno stood by his statement Friday, but told the Courier Post he can’t begin to understand how it feels to experience his town as a person of color.
“It’s hard for anybody who’s not an African American or minority to understand,” Bruno admitted. “I’m willing to listen.”
Bruno said the viral videos made him “sick to my stomach.”
The three protests have spurred township committee to plan a round table with police, community leaders, residents, clergy and educators to discuss “what we can do to foster better relationships.”
“We have to do something. It’s not fair,” Bruno said.
“Maybe we’ll find out this is the way parts of Franklinville are … the whole (township) committee feels the same way I do: we need to work for change.”
Carly Q. Romalino is a Gloucester County native who’s covered South Jersey since 2008. She’s a Rowan University graduate and a six-time New Jersey Press Association award winner.
She is the Courier Post’s “watch dog,” taking deep dives into matters throughout the region.
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