Harris should step down as Montclair NAACP officer

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent from Montclair NAACP executive committee member Cary Chevat to president Al Pelham and committee members on Sunday, Jan. 5.

As the only member of the Jewish community on the NAACP executive committee, I am outraged at the anti-Semitic comments by James Harris as it was an attack on my faith. What I find even more troubling is the lack of response by leaders of the Montclair community. The silence is deafening. 

After reviewing the 15-plus minutes of Mr. Harris’s uninterrupted hate speech, for me the most sickening part was the polite applause he received at the end of his comments. We know full well that had a white person made racist comments at that meeting, the response would have been immediate and overwhelming, as it should.

I am a lifetime member of the NAACP, and want to remind my fellow freedom fighters that civil rights are not just for African Americans. I am asking our NAACP members to join me in solidarity to denounce these hateful comments against the Jewish community. 

In his comments, Mr. Harris conflated “crime” and “hate crime” as if to minimize the recent anti-Semitic attacks. He knows better. A hate crime is when a white cop kills a black man in his living room. Hate crimes are why “Black Lives Matter” is such an important issue. A hate crime is when a gay couple is beaten for holding hands and a hate crime is when Jews are attacked by a machete in their house while praying. 

Do you know what anti-Semitism looks like in Montclair?

Do you need armed guards at your church? All the Jewish temples in the Montclair area now require armed guards and round-the-clock security. Does your church have uniformed police with long guns and bomb sniffing dogs for Christmas services? That is the Jewish experience during our High Holy Days. Worshipping God should not be an act of courage. 

This unfortunate incident provides us an opportunity to come together as a community. I appreciate the support offered by several members of the executive committee. I would like to extend an invitation to the executive committee and any interested NAACP member to attend a Friday evening service with me at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. If you have never experienced a Jewish religious service, I think you will see that our similarities are greater than our differences.

The damage done by Mr. Harris’s comments is far-reaching and has devastated the relationships not just between Jews and blacks, but the entire Montclair community. While I appreciate your efforts as well as Mayor Jackson’s to find meaningful remedies to this crisis, the silence by many of our elected officials and community leaders is shocking. Congresswoman Mikie Sherril is one of the exceptions, with a powerful statement against hate in Montclair.

While I appreciate the service that Mr. Harris has provided the community, I would hope he would take this opportunity to reflect on his actions and determine what is in the best interest of the NAACP.

It is my recommendation that we request Mr. Harris immediately step down as an officer of the Montclair branch of the NAACP. 

Cary Chevat


Comments by Harris must be condemned

I recently learned of the comments made by James Harris wherein he singled out and made hateful comments about a religious group.

I find it extremely disheartening that people, especially community leaders, spread their hate instead of trying to spread love and make the world a better place for all of us to live. This country has come a long way in terms of civil rights for minorities. We should all strive to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.

I also learned that Mr. Harris is a member of the Montclair Chapter of the NAACP, the same town where he made the statements. The website confirms that he is the first vice president and education committee chair of the organization. Although the statements were not made by the group itself, sadly I did not yet see any other members of his organization disavow his statements. In my book, failure to do so would qualify them as a hate group, along with any other groups that do not condemn such abhorrent behavior.

Michael Sacarello


We must unite against hate

We spent Sunday tramping across the Brooklyn Bridge with the “No Hate. No Fear” solidarity march called in response to the recent series of violent anti-Semitic incidents in our area like the targeted murders in a Jersey City kosher grocery.

We are part of a Black/Jewish interethnic family who moved to Montclair thirty years ago in search of a diverse community to raise our daughter.  Going to events like the march, recent rallies in support of immigrant rights and other actions that stand against victimization and racism have been a regular part of our personal agendas over the years because they express our values.  We believe strongly that targeting of any group for violent attacks or discrimination is an assault on all of us. We have been happy that our community reflects our values.

It’s from this perspective that we question the remarks made at a local forum by James Harris, a leading Montclair resident who serves as chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators, as reported in the on-line press.  Mr. Harris was unable to speak about the horrendous targeted killings of three at the Jersey City market without also disparaging the “not friendly” “folks with long black suits and curly locks”, in reference to members of the Hasidic Jewish minority to which two of the attack victims belonged.

Mr. Harris should be mindful that any targeted violence against any group has to be opposed in our strongest voices.  FULL STOP. This means without any extraneous grievances against victims. We need unity and his words were harmful.

It’s doubly sad that Harris speaks as someone concerned with education and he has long been associated with one of the civil rights movement’s most respected institutions, the NAACP.

We add our voices to that of Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill and others who are saying that Harris owes Montclair’s diverse community an apology.

Mark and Florence Lurinsky


Need creative solutions to township parking problem

I agree with Jan. 2 letter-writer Michael Vassallo (“Parking problem plagues Montclair downtown”), who argued that shoppers are discouraged from venturing to downtown Montclair due to the difficulty of finding parking spaces. My wife and I also rarely patronize stores or restaurants downtown because of the parking problems. However, the solution does not necessarily have to lie with increasing the number of parking spaces downtown. There is no open space for new parking lots, and encouraging more auto traffic would just add to pollution and congestion. 

Instead, Montclair needs to think creatively about providing frequent, convenient public jitney service that would bring residents from Upper Montclair and the South End to town center. Such service could run up and down Grove and Valley Road from Upper Montclair, and along either South Mountain or Harrison and Elm Street to serve the South End of town. An east west route along Bloomfield Ave would connect the two services to shops along Bloomfield Ave and to the Bay St Train Station. 

To be successful, such service would have to run every 15 minutes during peak evening and weekend hours. To cover the operating costs of such services, fares could be set equal to what it would cost to park downtown. This would not only help bring Montclair residents and MSU students to downtown Montclair for shopping, dining and entertainment, but would also make more parking available for out of town visitors who wish to enjoy Montclair’s growing and lively downtown scene. 


The author is a member of Montclair’s Transit Advisory Committee.


Letter-writing campaign for impeachment trial

The Montclair High School chapter of High School Democrats of America is running a letter-writing campaign among members of the club and the community-at-large. The letters are addressed to moderate Republican and Democratic senators who appear to be somewhat on the fence about the conviction of President Trump. The letters are meant to express the necessity of non-partisan voting, the magnitude of Donald Trump's actions, and the urgency of a fair, unbiased Senate trial process. We encourage members of the community to join us in this meaningful effort and reach out to the people who set a historic precedent for our democracy. The senators we are writing to are Senator Romney (R-UT), Senator Murkowski (R-ME), Senator Gardner (R-CO), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Manchin (D-WV), and Senator Sinema (D-AZ). 

The addresses of the offices of these senators can be found at their respective government websites. 

If you do choose to write a letter to one or multiple of these officials, please do not do so in a manner that is at all aggressive or reflects poorly on the Montclair community. The goal is to convince these individuals that we believe that they have it in themselves to do the right thing, our goal is not to attack or alienate them. 

Please take a few minutes to send a letter, the more letters these senators get, the more likely they will be to consider the interests of American democracy!


The author is a member of the Montclair HS chapter of High School Democrats of America.