By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
It started simply enough: A post on a popular community Facebook page, Secret Montclair, asked why there were helicopters over Upper Montclair on the morning of July 27. One person replied that there was a car fire on the neighboring Garden State Parkway.
But another commented on the thread: “China 19 check….” — seemingly a racial reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in Wuhan, China. The comment, which has since been taken down, was from an account under the name Bill Coad.
The post quickly grew from a few about the helicopters to dozens — many about the comment under Coad’s name. Some posters called it “xenophobic” and others noted that he appeared to be a Montclair police officer.
Christa Rappaport, chair of Montclair’s Civil Rights Commission, quickly filed a report with the Montclair Police Department. Montclair Local wasn’t able to obtain the report, as civil rights reports are confidential.
“The post was racist against persons of Chinese heritage. As a CRC commissioner, I delivered Facebook screenshots to executive officers of the MPD,” Rappaport said.
Police Deputy Chief Wilhelm Young confirmed to Montclair Local that Coad is a member of the department, and that the department had received the report from the Civil Rights Commission on July 27.
“The matter is currently under investigation,” Young said. He has not yet responded to a follow-up message Wednesday asking if Coad had been suspended or placed on desk duty during the investigation.
Rappaport said the commission hopes that disciplinary action is taken “ASAP.”
Coad has not yet responded to a request for comment placed through Facebook messenger Wednesday morning.
The post quickly drew the attention of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Montclair’s 300 members, said member Jeffrey Chang.
“AAPI Montclair is appalled to learn of an Anti-Asian comment allegedly posted in a popular community forum by a member of the Montclair Police force. … Asian Americans are fearful they will be attacked or harassed,” he said. “Many victims do not believe law enforcement will take them seriously and fear being further harmed or traumatized. These concerns are exacerbated by incidents like this.”
Chang also pointed to recently released state bias incident data for 2020 that showed a spike in anti-Asian incidents. According to a statement from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office in March, there were 71 incidents in 2020, up from 39 in 2019 — an 82% increase. That’s also a four-fold increase from 2018’s 16 incidents, Murphy’s office noted.
AAPI Montclair is calling on the “township and the police department to conduct a full investigation and take the necessary steps to ensure this behavior is not condoned by the township and our community. We will also be calling for further steps the township should take to foster a more inclusive workforce where hate is not tolerated.”
The Montclair Branch of the NAACP, which in its mission statement says it stands to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination,” released a statement staying “the racist social media posts allegedly made by the Montclair Police Officer [have] no place in the Montclair Community.”
“We received a commitment from the leadership of the Montclair Police Department that they will fully investigate this issue,” Roger Terry, first vice president of the Montclair Chapter of the NAACP, said.
“Our expectations are that the MPD will take immediate steps to resolve this issue including appropriate disciplinary action. We live in a very diverse community and anything else will not be tolerated.”