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Montclair needs citizens review board for police

On June 2, I took part in a Zoom meeting with Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti and Deputy Chief Wil Young, as well as others from the MPD and the prosecutor’s office. We (over 450 strong) had the opportunity to listen to their perspective on the current crisis engulfing our nation.

What became abundantly clear is that there is a powerful sense of “them” and “us.” (Let me be clear — it doesn’t matter WHO the “them” and “us” is, what matters is that it exists.)

And we know from history, the moment a community or a nation feels that way, bad things happen between whoever the “them” and “us” is. In order to bridge that divide, in order to give a sense of balance instead of divisiveness, in order to create a “we” — we need a Citizens Review Board. Please note I used “citizen,” not “civilian” — because we are ALL citizens — police and community alike. I urge every citizen to call, text, or email your councilperson TODAY in support of a Citizen Review Board. Below is the website, with phone numbers, of council people and their wards.

Please go to montclairnjusa.org to find your ward and your councilperson, and make a call for unity and justice. Please make the call! In this time of COVID-19, we need more than ever to find a way to make our voices and our wishes heard.

Thank you.



Silence is not an option

On June 1, my daughter asked if she could attend a peaceful demonstration for George Floyd in a nearby town in New Jersey. I agreed to go with her.

The gathering started in a small park and continued to the local police station. The organizers announced that this was a peaceful demonstration, and we were responsible for a peaceful narrative, and to follow instructions. The neighborhood we marched through seemed to be mostly black and Hispanic. Many women and young children hung out of the windows surprised at the attention. Some were on building stoops, some on the street. They jumped in the air with joy with the demonstrators’ chants for justice.

We were repeatedly asked to march peacefully and to chant the names of well-known blacks killed by police in the past year. One of the chants was “Black Lives Matter.” We were told that when we arrived at the police station that there would be a row of police out front. And all those demonstrators who were not black should step forward to show solidarity. We stood face-to-face with the police while the black and brown protestors could move back.

I felt touched at that request to step forward to show support with my daughter. My daughter is a light-skinned Asian-American. As we arrived and filed in front of the police line all the fists raised in the front line were white. The policemen were in heavy riot gear, and some of them were black. A chant then was started and acted out — “Hands up, don’t shoot, hands up, don’t shoot, when in doubt don’t shoot.” As I put my hands up in the air I felt both the rightness of doing this and the reality of my resignation.

Yet I was not really able to imagine what it must be like for many blacks to do this with police — over and over throughout their lives in fear, despair and anger. As part of early childhood training, black families “have the talk” with their kids about what to do with their hands to be safe when stopped by the police. Maybe.

After the march, I went back to my suburban home and rested. I felt gratitude for the privileges in my life and what I can offer to my daughter who is Asian-American. Yet at a young age of 19, she has already experienced racism. I know I am part of this system and I want to be part of the change.



Blue Lives Matter flag should be taken down

I had the privilege to join the NAACP and Blue Wave’s joint Zoom call this past Tuesday [June 2], an opportunity for the MPD to provide transparency around their training on the use of force and their own response to the national crisis stemming from the brutal homicide of George Floyd.

I joined the call with open ears and good intentions — I was encouraged by the bridge being built by the MPD and the NAACP to engage the community with open ears at a time when our hearts, frankly, have been broken. And my limited interactions with the MPD had all been positive, so I also came in with no ill will.

However, my attention was quickly diverted to the sight of the “Thin Blue Line” flag on the conference room wall, which is known as the symbol for Blue Lives Matter. At that point, nothing else in the conversation mattered.

That flag, which was condemned by myself and many others in the Zoom chat, was defended by our police chief as a symbol of the thin blue line that represents the police department’s role in maintaining order within our society — a symbol that had been in place long before the Black Lives Matter movement had arisen.

However, the Blue Lives Matter flag was created in direct retaliation to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is a movement that does not decry the importance of law enforcement, rather it serves to remind people to remember the value of black lives at a time when they are so visibly devalued.

For this symbol to be hanging in the conference room of the very people our tax dollars support to protect our community as they attempt to extend an olive branch to the community... was simply a slap in the face. This is not an official symbol, like the American flag, or the crests of our county and state.

I implore the Montclair Police Department to remove this divisive symbol from all police property — buildings, vehicles, and wherever else other manifestations of it may reside. Because it serves as nothing but another means of division, and yet another symbol that law enforcement sees itself not as protectors of our land, but above the law — something that is what has fueled the continued use of excessive force by law enforcement against black people.

I want nothing more than to create a bridge and work productively with law enforcement, as I am a black wife and mother of two young children who just found propaganda from an alt-right group feet away from my property. But if I cannot fully trust the people enlisted to protect my family, then what protection does that guarantee us?



Jazz House Kids founders speak out against police brutality

Today, there is no message more important for Jazz House Kids to convey than Black Lives Matter. We lift our voices in one chorus to denounce the unconscionable and continuous improper wielding of power, brutality and wanton death of black people in this country.

We recognize the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Botham Jean, Eric Garner and so many more who are the dads, moms, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, godparents, and caregivers of many of our young people. We can’t make music without our students knowing that their families’ lives — and their own young lives and future — are respected and protected.

Jazz House Kids has dedicated 18 years climbing uphill to help secure the future of young people from all backgrounds, to make sure their song is heard, and for our collective actions to facilitate a cultural shift in the world around us. Our instrument for change is JAZZ, born in the African-American experience and struggle, rooted in the looting of an enslaved people and shared with the world as a challenge to work toward a better tomorrow. Jazz is a music that grows impatient with stagnation.

We stand united with people of all colors and backgrounds who are committed to seeking social justice, truth and reconciliation, and criminal justice reform. We call for the renewed efforts to root out racism that promotes the systemic inequity that has undermined access to proper housing, health care, education and jobs. The coronavirus pandemic has once again laid bare the ravages of a tyrannical system that has dominated our country for over 400 years.

We call upon all of us to take personal responsibility and honestly address the implicit bias within ourselves that can infringe upon a person of color’s freedom to enjoy a simple act like a walk in the park. We must all reject the false premise that my freedom sacrifices your freedom.

We at Jazz House Kids hope that through the democracy of jazz, our students, and the families of our students, and our friends and supporters have found love and empathy in knowing people different from themselves. Therefore, the song of America should and will change. Our young people are watching us at this critical time.

The authors are the founders of Jazz House Kids, a community arts organization dedicated to educating children through jazz.


Defund the police, invest in communities

This is what communities of color have been asking for a long time: to invest in their needs. Police in poor neighborhoods only cause suffering. What I personally expect from the horrible trend of assassinations that we had to witness during the last months is that we get to reduce the amount of police officers who interact with the community and hire more social workers and invest in communities through social services with the money we are allocating now in military equipment or trainings that do not change the interactions of police officers with communities.

Crime will be reduced to a minimum when we become a more equal society. Communities need money for schools, to guarantee food for all, recreational activities, mental health services, health care services, affordable housing.

The police should focus on crimes such as human trafficking, hate crimes, kidnappings, money laundering, terrorism, child pornography. I do not want police to be in charge of evicting a family from their home, or helping immigration agents to arrest an undocumented person, or arrest a person for paying with a fake bill. We can implement restorative practices for antisocial behavior and petty crimes.

I understand that for many of you it is quite difficult to imagine a society without police, but we once lived without police. We do have the ingredients to try a new recipe, one that really gives us the results we need.

There is no more time and there are no more lives to spare. Let us not try another wave of police reform that will not work. Divest from punitiveness and invest in services for the community. We know how to take care of each other. Let us start a new era.



July 1967 — what have we learned?

Montclair is a unique blend of urban and suburban. It’s a town of approximately 40,000 people. It is the epitome of suburban diversity. There are poor, middle-class, rich, and filthy rich. Even the folks who are less than middle-class pay a substantial cost to live in the township. Folks can be poor anywhere, but everyone works hard to have a slice of this particular piece of the American dream. Montclair is also a place where sophisticates come to nest and raise their families.

In July 1967, Newark, five miles [away], erupted in a riot that engulfed the city. The problem started when a police officer made an arrest in a housing project. The residents thought the police used unnecessary force, and that the suspect had died. As Newark erupted, Montclair began to get the spillover. African American communities across the nation began to protest and rail against prejudice, ignorance, oppression, and injustice.

Being a minority of Sicilian heritage, I could understand anyone’s frustrations and anger under these circumstances. But as fires were set, cars overturned, and storefront windows smashed and looted, the police had a sworn obligation to do their jobs as well.

Montclair’s Fourth Ward, where I lived, grew up, and went to school, was in danger of going up in flames like Newark. There was a lot of discontentment in the black community as a result of abrasive relationships between the police and African-Americans.

James J. Reardon, then Montclair’s chief of police, worked together with black community leaders and clergy to avert the destruction Newark was experiencing. As a result, the police had to contain roving gangs of youths who were setting small fires, breaking windows and looting, but not on the same scale as what occurred in Newark, where the state police and National Guard had to be called in to quell the rioting.

At this time, I was still a beat patrolman, and I remember running from one location to another to combat the violence. It was my duty to disband gangs and maintain order without losing control of the situation. Because of what was occurring in Montclair, Chief Reardon had ordered the entire MPD on alert.

I don’t mean what I am about to say in an “authoritarian big man” type of way, I mean it in the way of someone who played, bled and was raised in the neighborhood: These streets were part of me and defined who I am. The Fourth Ward was in my blood and will always be my home. Because of my lifelong relationships in the affected neighborhoods, I was able to speak with some of the people who were acting up, though in reality I don’t think many were listening. Emotions were running at a high pitch, and people were very angry.

Looking back, having been part of this experience made me a better cop. It made me realize how important it is to listen and be able to communicate with people of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds to understand what they were feeling.

In times of turmoil, such as the 1967 riots, and the riots now occurring in 2020, even though the rioters may have felt they had legitimate gripes that allowed them to violate the law and create havoc and destroy their own communities, as a police officer, the bottom line is that “law and order” must prevail, as it did in Montclair during that difficult time.


The author is a former chief of the Montclair police and former director of public safety for the township.


Count all the votes in municipal election

As leaders in town representing all Montclairians, it seems to me that all our councilors have an interest in making sure that every vote mailed in is counted.  The just and gracious thing for Mr. Spiller to do would be to refuse to be sworn in as mayor until all the votes in the Essex County clerk’s possession are counted. That action would show a true respect for each and every voter in these unprecedented times.


The author is a member of Montclair’s Planning Board and was a candidate for at-large council in this year’s election.


Where are our ex-presidents?

Our democracy is currently at stake. We have a president who occupies the White House and disregards the rule of law. He has bent every lever of power to suit his needs. He has appointed minions to oversee each pillar of our government. He lies with reckless abandon and he traffics in race-baiting rhetoric as if studying classic Ku Klux Klan scripts. The list of atrocities attributed to Donald J. Trump is, sadly, seemingly endless. Few in power seem equipped with the courage to speak truth to his tyrannical power.

The Republican Party has been reduced to his own personal lap dogs, afraid to be vengefully Twitter-ed by him should they step out of line. They are deathly afraid of angering their base  —  a sycophantic crew so loyal to Trump they in fact would let him shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still call him the best president our country has ever seen.

Trump’s brand of hatred, vilification, cheating, bullying, and pretending to be a religious man checks all the right boxes for them. His caging of Mexicans, separating them from their children and calling white nationalists “fine people” were just icing on the cake for the gluttonous, bigoted base. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exercised tremendous restraint in calling them “a basket of deplorables.” It was a moniker far kinder than they deserved in 2016 and one that does not come close to capturing their essence in 2020.

We understand the Republican fear of speaking out. God forbid doing the right thing if it could mean losing your next election. That’s their excuse. So Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Mike Pence, etc., you guys get a pass. Your lack of morals or any kind of real convictions leave you powerless to even roll an eye at your Master in Chief. What we don’t understand though is why are the leaders on the left so quiet?

I know, I know  —  President Obama released a statement. A statement? With all due respect, get in front of a TV camera, sir! We should not have to google you or go to your website to hear your thoughts. I’m pretty sure you could get airtime whenever and wherever you want it. So what’s holding you back? Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are not up to the challenge, as they continue to prove daily.

You, President Obama, are the unifying force we need right now. The voice of reason that is largely absent from the debate and the one we need to hear from the most in this chaos.

You are a two-term president. You know the norms that are being shattered. You understand how dangerous this all is, perhaps lethal enough to kill our democracy. The rule of law has been eroded and white supremacists have been embraced. It’s all headed in a very dark direction, and it feels as though we are nowhere near rock-bottom.

I imagine we will be closer to that dismal point come November, when Trump makes it hard for people to vote and will undoubtedly call foul should the election not go his way. Do we really believe this pitiful excuse for a human being will ever step down from office now that he is in the process of transforming the military into his own personal security team? Think hard about what might be coming, it’s scary, and almost all of the guardrails to prevent it from happening have been decimated.

Where are you, President Obama? Your mere presence on the public stage would infuriate Trump. He hates competition of any kind. Show America what a leader looks like. Speak out, today! And do so vociferously and all day long if need be because if not now, when? You love this country, help her wrestle herself away from an abusive madman. It’s that dire.

Right now the progressives are up against a Republican senate, the U.S. military and the nation’s law enforcement contingent, all of whom seem comfortably under Trump’s thumb. He has zero incentive to fix any of this. His incompetence thrives in chaos, and his base loves the sideshow of seeing minorities screaming for their lives in the street.

How impactful would it be for presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton and Carter to stand together, speak out and say “This is not how the presidency works.” This is not a difference of opinion between parties. It’s not about taxes, abortion, immigration, or gay rights. This is not the culture wars as we have known them, this is much different. It is a darker, insidious turn to the kind of leadership we have always denounced when we have spotted it in dictatorships and banana republics around the world.

What would it take for these ex-presidents to stand up and speak out, and how much more time do we have left for them to procrastinate? There’s a decorum among former presidents who subscribe to a doctrine of not disparaging their successors or their policies. However, when all norms are being shattered in quick succession, then why is this gentleman’s agreement to remain silent still so revered?

President Obama, President Bush, Presidents Clinton and Carter, this is your country. Your children and grandchildren inhabit it. This affects us all. Ask yourselves at what point might you feel it appropriate to offer leadership and call out tyranny. Then ask yourselves how long before that window of opportunity to effect change might stay open… and how crushing the regret of your silence may feel when it has closed for good.



Use of leaf blowers not being limited

In reference to the May 6 Montclair Local article “Montclair ‘suggests’ limiting the use of leaf blowers,” not one resident in my neighborhood has limited their use of leaf blowers; rather it has been exacerbated. The council’s gentle “suggestion” is useless and dangerous. If it is illegal to ban leaf blowers, what are the legal rights of residents’ physical health and well-being? Why is the mayor concerned only with the employment of leaf blowers and not Montclair residents’ right to live in a peaceful community?

I live at The Midland apartments. Every single morning — weekday and weekend — I am jolted into the day by leaf blowers. Along Walnut Street between Midland Avenue and Park Street, private homeowners and the funeral home expose me and all residents nearby to a cacophony of noise-making landscape activity.

The Moriarty Funeral Home, located on 76 Park St., employs the use of leaf blowers and myriad landscape equipment almost on a daily basis. In a cement parking lot, employees point leaf blowers at a cement lot where nary a blade of grass or leaf or flower exists. Yet, every day, sometimes starting before 8 a.m. — and often extending until after noon — Moriarty insists on wreaking havoc to our eardrums.

The above-mentioned Montclair Local article includes the mayor’s supposition that leaf blowers are not dangerous: “Mayor Robert Jackson said he has reached out to health officials who told him there are no adverse health issues in connection with leaf blowers. He is also concerned with hindering landscapers’ work with the time needed to rake versus using a machine, and that banning the machines could lead to job loss.”

I disagree, as do a majority of Montclair residents. However, every debate is suffused with emotions and hypotheses. Thus, I investigated and provided facts from pediatricians, scientists, the American Lung Association, the EPA, CDC, WHO, and more. And relevant to the current pandemic, a recent Harvard study (https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/covid-pm) found ongoing exposure to air pollution contributes to COVID-19 death rates.

As I write this letter, on June 2, a private residence across the street from The Midland apartments is currently engaging in leaf-blower activity in which the employee is walking back and forth on the corner of Walnut Street and Midland Avenue pointing a leaf blower at the road, thus creating reckless noise pollution for absolutely no logical reason I can surmise.

Montclair just elected a new administration. Please, consider banning leaf blowers and high-decibel equipment that causes respiratory illnesses, lung disease, dementia, and now impacts the likelihood of succumbing to the infectious novel coronavirus.



The harms of leaf blowers

Dear neighbors, I am not sure if you know this information, so I wanted to reach out to you.

Would you please ask your landscapers to limit or cease their use of leaf blowers? Leaf blowers use extremely inefficient two-stroke engines, which cause deafening noise and carcinogenic air pollution in our neighborhoods.

Leaf blowers do more to speed up climate change than even cars.

Using a two-stroke leaf blower for a half hour emits the hydrocarbon equivalent of driving a pickup truck for 3,900 miles.

Leaf blowers can harm the health of your family and neighbors. The ozone and fine particulate matter they emit are well-known contributors to asthma, heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other serious health conditions, including possibly childhood autism.

Leaf-blower noise is deafening — literally. Prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss.

Leaf blowers blast ozone, pesticides, mold, and animal feces into your yard and our neighborhood.

Leaf blowers harm the workers who use them because workers suffer long-term noise exposure and inhale the most pollutants.

Leaf blowers remove the materials that birds need for nesting and foraging. With bird and insect numbers plummeting, we need to do whatever is possible to make our yards more hospitable to them.

What are alternatives? You can ask your landscaper not to use leaf blowers. For your flower gardens, “leave the leaves” so that you won’t have to buy mulch or fertilizer. For your lawn, using rakes will take a few minutes longer, but will be healthier for your family, your neighbors, the workers, and the environment.