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Montclair Local’s ‘Letters To The Editor’ section is an open forum for readers to discuss town matters, articles published in Montclair Local, or other letters to the editor. Views expressed and published in this section are solely those of the writers, and do not represent those of Montclair Local.

Letters on any subject can be e-mailed to letters@montclairlocal.news, or mailed and addressed to “Letters To The Editor,” 309 Orange Road, Montclair NJ, 07042. All submissions must include name, address, and phone number for verification. Letters must be received by 5 p.m. Monday to be published in Thursday’s paper. Only the letter-writer’s name and town of residence will be published.

Letters may be edited by Montclair Local for style and length. While our goal is to publish all letters we receive, Montclair Local reserves the right to not publish letters for any reason.

Township should monitor social distancing

Today the township Department of Health reported that COVID-19 cases have spiked to 416 . This data should be alarming to township officials.

During the four-day period from 5/20 to 5/24, new cases increased by only three. However, in the three-day period from 5/24 to 5/26, new cases increased by seven. In his press conference [May 27], Governor Murphy stated that flare-ups require prompt corrective measures. I ask that the township now take prompt corrective measures to ensure that the fire-up doesn’t explode into a second wave of increasing infection.

A short drive around town reveals groups of teens and preteens (and sometimes adults) walking and biking together without social distancing and without masks. Joggers and bikers cruise the park pathways without masks as well, passing slow-moving and more vulnerable residents. Yet I haven’t seen a squad at the town parks since the first days of closure.

Now that they have been reopened, it is as if there is no virus requiring continuing controls. I sympathize with parents who have been closed in with active children. However, public health must remain the priority.

Can the township gently remind people to maintain social distance? Can signs be posted at parks recommending masks be worn to protect the vulnerable? How about a robo-call? Surely the township bears some responsibility in protecting everyone’s health. Now is the time to exercise it.

JOANN KATZBAN
Montclair

When your ‘very identity poses a risk’

I know as a community we are all deeply concerned with current events. Those of us who have not lived our lives as a person of color have no way of truly understanding or comprehending their pain, anger and frustration, or the burden of fear, injustice and oppression that is part of their everyday lives. In fact, I am reluctant to make any statement that could be interpreted as an attempt to describe their experience or feelings.

As a gay man, I do know what it is like to have your very identity pose a risk to your safety; as a teenager, I was beaten up and assaulted. I have had my life threatened and my property vandalized. Sadly, growing up I learned that I had the option of protecting myself by hiding my identity inside the physical shell of my white maleness. My fiance, Ben, and I have learned to modify our behavior in public to shield our identity to make other people comfortable. We grew up getting used to whispers, looks and outright vitriol directed at us. But this “option” of hiding is not available to those who are targets for violence because of their skin color. There is no “closet” for a person of color.

What I do know, from the countless conversations I have had over the past few days, with individuals from across the ideological and cultural spectrum, is that there is unified horror and outrage at the killing of George Floyd and the systemic problems and injustices that allowed it to happen. We must cling to this slim thread of unity in these frightening times and work together for urgently needed change. Violence is not the answer.

Although I have not officially taken office, I want the people of Montclair to know that my “door” is wide open and I want to hear from you and work with you and help you facilitate what is best for our community right now. As I said during the campaign, I believe my job is to be everyone’s councilman. That’s something I will always strive for. That starts with listening to everyone.

PETER YACOBELLIS
Montclair
The author was elected as an at-large township councilman and will take office July 1.

Drivers, not pedestrians, need to be more mindful

I was extremely discouraged by the town alert on May 29 regarding complaints about pedestrians, runners and bicyclists “being very mindful on roads.” During the pandemic, more people have been venturing outside to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise, especially as the weather has been getting warmer (as an aside, please wear a mask!).  In this age of social distancing, people have been reminded endlessly about the importance of keeping six feet between others as we try to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens. This has led to more people on foot in the road than in recent memory, which has been very refreshing to see, and a chance to see our community in a way other than “I see that guy on the 8:21 train.”

It is the responsibility of the driving community to be aware and patient as people take up more space in the surrounding streets, especially given the narrowness of sidewalks when striving to social distance. Although we take driving for granted, cars can seriously injure or even kill people, which leads to my frustration at the town alert. As an avid runner and casual biker, it is frustrating yet again to be told that the priority of the road is to the driver in a powerful machine rather than a vulnerable person. This does not excuse runners, bicyclists and pedestrians who avoid care in their actions, but if we are going to excuse behavior of speeding drivers while chastising people on foot, what kind of example does that set for our town? We should be striving for a walking and biking community in our neighborhood, but this town alert has set a dangerous precedent that the town cares more about the cars of the road than the people of the road.

My final ask is as follows: Please drive slowly, please be aware that more people are out now that summer is here, and please drive as if every person you see running, walking or bicycling is your own child and drive as carefully as you want others to drive around your child.

ROBERT DEMMETT
Montclair

We must make sure all mail-in votes are counted

I am writing in response to your May 21 article on the mail-in election process (“Montclair as a proving ground,” page 12).

My wife and I moved to Montclair a little under a year ago. This past election was our first municipal election. Given Governor Murphy’s executive order requiring vote-by-mail, our ballots were delivered to us both without having to request them. We returned our ballots via mail prior to the May 12 deadline.

I’m sad to say that my wife received a letter from the Essex County Board of Elections informing her that her “signature on the voter registration file did not match with the signature on your Vote by Mail Certification. Therefore, your ballot was not eligible to be counted.” She attempted to contact the BOE but never received a response. What proof did they provide that her signature did not match? None. What process did they provide for her to remedy the signature mismatch and prove herself? None. The letter was received after the election was already called. What is Mayor-elect Sean Spiller’s plan to ensure every vote by mail is counted in future elections?

Aside from the frustrations of not having any way to remedy the signature mismatch to ensure her vote was counted, there are much larger concerns of voter suppression in play here. We’ve all seen the news articles of widespread purging of voter roles throughout the country, and to think a town like Montclair would be immune would be naive. As Americans, the right to vote is our constitutional right. If the government is to mandate vote-by-mail, the government is expected to have policies and procedures in place to validate these ballots that do not infringe on our rights, that do not disenfranchise voters, and that maintain the integrity of our elections.

Signature mismatch rejections without the ability to remedy didn’t just happen this election, it has been an issue in New Jersey for years with respect to vote-by-mail. We should all be gravely concerned, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With no way to remedy a signature mismatch, how can anyone be sure that their vote would be counted? Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, it ensures our government is of the people, by the people, for the people, and anything that hinders this right for one citizen is a threat to all citizens, and our democracy as a whole.

CAITLIN ELFRING
Montclair

Response to May 28 note from our publisher

As a 92-year-old resident of Montclair for almost 60 years, I was pleased to read, in the May 28 Montclair Local’s Town Square, about Heeten Choxi’s publishing philosophy. This self-revelation is a step forward in integrating the publisher into the life blood of the township. A broader coverage of events will result. What is most encouraging about this article is Mr. Choxi’s understanding that the content of the Local must be improved, especially on how it handles opinion pieces. The next sentence states that he looks forward to hearing the reader ideas on how to improve. I could not resist this opportunity to answer his call.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the length of submittals to the Opinion page. Most are more in the nature of an editorial piece, rather than as a reaction to current events or proposals presently circulating within Montclair. The present format requires Local readers to follow the convoluted details being pushed by its author. This discourages further pro and con letters on the subject by the less-verbose readers. [Former editor of the Montclair Times] Mark Porter, who is now a member of the Local’s advisory board, set very strict limits on the number of words permitted in Letters to the Editor. He also limited the frequency with which the same submitter was permitted to appear on the Opinion page. I believe following his example will open up that page to a far greater readership.

Even more of importance is the need for Mr. Choxi to pay more attention to the Montclair Township governing body. Now is an excellent time to begin doing so, following the recent election for the Township Council. Presently, the school situation within Montclair is given almost minute-by-minute coverage. No similar attention is devoted to keeping the residents of Montclair aware of discussions taking place in that body, which will affect the future direction the council takes on housing. Education is only one of the many problems Montclair faces today. I would suggest that an editor who has plenty of political savvy, but no ax to grind, be assigned to that task.

ALFRED BERUTTI
Montclair

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, healthcare, 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.

Melissa Walker and Christian McBride
Montclair
The authors are the founders of Jazz House Kids, a community arts organization dedicated to educating children through jazz.

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