Where Peace and Civil Rights Meet in New Jersey

The connection between the military and repression of civil rights is a theme that New Jersey Peace Action (NJPA) has been exploring since its founding in 1957 as New Jersey SANE. NJPA’s local “Move the Money” campaign to re-direct at least 25% of the money in the military budget to peaceful needs of communities, joined with national efforts several years ago.  

The money we need desperately for schools, jobs creation, health care, infrastructure repair and more should be taken from the overblown military budget of between $650 billion and $750 billion.

Another concern is the role the military is playing in racial oppression.

Significantly, it was military vehicles that, surviving their original use in Iraq or Afghanistan, were “donated” to Ferguson, Missouri for use by their police – affecting the community’s civil rights and civil liberties.

In many other U.S. communities, including New Jersey’s own Bergen County, public officials are debating whether to accept these “donations” of armored vehicles, grenade launchers and M16s. The Los Angeles school district just decided to return grenade launchers which they were offered, but to keep donated M16s.  Is law enforcement really “at war” with the people it is supposed to serve?

“Given the widespread racial disparities that persist in the nation’s criminal justice system and the devastating impact such inequities are having on communities of color, it is fair to say that the ‘New Jim Crow’ is the major civil rights issue of our time,” said Clinton Lacey, Deputy Commissioner, Adult Operations, NYC Department of Probation, in anticipation of NJPA’s 57th Annual Fall Gathering on Saturday, November 8th.

The Undoing Racism Committee of the Montclair Unitarian Fellowship, along with NJPA and 20 other organizations, held an October 22nd march and rally as part of a national month of action to protest these inequities. Decarcerate the Garden State (http://DecarcerateNJ.org) is mobilizing New Jersey cities to demand legislation that will call for reducing New Jersey’s incarcerated population by 50% over four years through release of non-violent primarily drug and small scale economic offenders.

“Let’s all remember one of the most powerful mottos of the civil rights protesters in the 1960s, ‘there can be no peace without justice'” said Larry Hamm, Montclair resident and Chairperson of the People’s Organization for Progress, a civil rights organization founded in 1983  out of the struggles of the African-American community during the late sixties and seventies for justice.  

In 1964, the civil rights movement in the United States was nearing the height of its intensity. The year was fraught with tension – with Freedom Rides and other non-violent protests such as voter registration efforts in Mississippi which continually met with violent opposition.

It was the year after Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the year the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. The following year, on March 7, 1965, hundreds of protesters seeking the right to vote crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They were met by Alabama State troopers and local police in riot gear spraying tear gas and wielding billy clubs. Fifty protesters were hospitalized.

That “Bloody Sunday” sparked even more ambitious efforts for civil rights and greater equality as the whole world saw how African-Americans’ rightful protests were being treated.

There was jubilation in the streets in August 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was finally signed. The long, hard fight for justice had reached its highest point since the abolition of slavery about 100 years before. But what do those triumphs mean now 50 years later? How is the U.S. doing today in protecting civil rights and human rights?  Could it be that the many current violations of civil rights and human rights is a leading consequence of the militarization of both U.S. foreign and domestic policy?  

One place in the U.S. where these issues come to the fore is Ferguson, Missouri where 18 year-old Michael Brown, an African-American, was shot multiple times and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, sparking months of protests and militarized response to that protest. Ferguson symbolizes what can happen when the nation’s militarized mindset affects our domestic policy. Instead of working steadily for peace and mutual understanding, law enforcement officials rely too often on brutal force as an immediate remedy for resolving differences, similar to what happens with international conflict. Wherever there is international conflict, the U.S. calls too quickly for increased military action in response.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott involved many people without prior experience as activists,” said Theodora Lacey, civil rights pioneer and resident of Teaneck who will also address the topic ‘Civil Rights at 50: To Create Peace, Try Justice’ at NJPA’s upcoming Annual Fall Gathering. “Most of us, including Dr. King, were very young – under the age of 30, but we were clear that our fight was timely and just. Today we need our young people to continue to fight injustice where they find it.” 

NJPA’s 57th Annual Fall Peace Gathering will take place on Saturday, November 8th, from 1:00pm until 4:00pm at Columbia High School, 17 Parker Avenue, in Maplewood, New Jersey. Tickets are $35 each.  For more information or to make reservations visit www.njpeaceaction.org


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