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.
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Do not be surprised by racism in Montclair
If you are surprised about racism in Montclair, you are the exact reason why it’s alive and well. I am tired of seeing posts saying “I can’t believe this. IN MONTCLAIR?”
Yes. In Montclair.
You say it’s time for white people to listen. Did you not listen in first grade, when you learned about slavery? Jim Crow? Rodney King was beaten like a dog in ’91. I was born in ’98.
Have you not been listening for my entire life? You have listened. You’ve comprehended our pain, and you’ve decided that it should stop. You simply don’t care enough to stop it.
You live in Montclair for a reason. You wanted the “diversity” (why have a token Black friend when you can have a token Black community). You posted “BLM” in 2015. You probably were a hippie in the ’70s. But when push came to shove, you buckled up and got down to business. For yourself.
Upper Montclair has a median income of $190,000. That money wasn’t made fighting for social justice. It was made fighting for you, and your family, and your creativity, and whatever else people of privilege (including myself, a child of an Ivy League graduate) have the rare ability to focus on.
When PARCC testing jeopardized your child’s education, y’all didn’t march. You didn’t complain. You acted. Y’all drove to Trenton, filled the school board meetings to the brim, you found policies and legal precedent.
You did everything in your being to help your wealthy, intelligent child “stay on track.” And then, standardized testing, something I took every single year of my life across multiple school districts, was optional. A federally mandated test became optional. Why? How? Because powerful people cared.
Why don’t we see the same for Black people in Montclair? Because you simply don’t care.
Five years ago, the Pathmark that served your token Black community closed down. You did nothing. Within that time A&P (0.3 miles away from another grocery store and in the wealthier, whiter part of town) became Acme within a week of closing. A historic inn was literally picked up, moved and rebuilt. A hotel with a rooftop bar was opened. New construction on Walnut Street. A new arts district on Seymour Street with the Wellmont Theater remodeled. Brand new condos across from Mission Street, Walnut Street and many other developments.
Y’all even reopened the Bellevue Theatre. Think about that. Let that sit.
People have to Uber their way to already unaffordable groceries, and you not only reopened but remodeled your MOVIE THEATER? Even with a global pandemic that has done cataclysmic damage to the film industry, the Bellevue has plans to reschedule its opening to 2021.
Still no grocery store. Five years. In your own front yard. You don’t care.
You all march, chant, re-post and put signs on your front yard, but you don’t actually give a heck. Montclair is composed of lawyers, producers, business people, government officials and more. You have the power to do something, yet you only say something. You are Michael Jordan in Game 7 sitting on the bench.
You’ve used ME to fuel your vanity. You say you love Montclair because I and your white kid got a chance to have similar opportunities. I am telling you, objectively, that is untrue. A relatively small number of my friends from Montclair are Black. And we all share the same experiences that are completely unique to the town you love.
Those experiences were not pleasant. We are not your token. I don’t identify with you. I’m not a “Montclairian.”
And it’s not “Karen” asking for a permit that has distanced me from you. It’s not the racist police department that arrested me twice before the end of seventh grade without any cause whatsoever, detaining me for six-plus hours and illegally forcing me to sign away my rights to be in certain public places. Not even them.
It’s you, with your BLM sign on your yard, a gay pride bumper sticker on your Subaru. It’s you who invested your hard-earned money in a movie theater but simply shake your head and sigh at the strategic loss of a grocery store. It’s you who quietly watch your property value rise, while loudly chanting against systematic oppression.
It’s not Minneapolis that brings me to the brink of losing hope. It’s Montclair. It’s you.
The writer is a 2016 graduate of Montclair High School.
Town should not turn over email list
The Property Owners Association has a lot of gall to demand the email addresses of residents from the town government. I did not give the town permission to hand my information out to anyone who demands it, whether for a petition or not!
They can advertise for people to sign their petition online, but the town should not share our contact information with any group. These lists are very lucrative, and we’d have no idea if they would sell or misuse such information. Perhaps they should have consulted a lawyer before making these demands, they are opening themselves up to a lawsuit if the town mailing list was ever used illegally, sold, leaked or sent inappropriate content.
This group has continually used the current crisis to block reform in Montclair. While people are out of work, they are getting paid rent. Have any of them applied for COVID relief business loans and grants, which their renters are paying for with our taxes?
They were against a referendum during a mail-in ballot election because they don’t want renters voting. Now they think the town should give them resident contact information. We’re taxpayers, too. And our personal information is not theirs to demand from our government.
Doubts about school reopenings
Tomorrow I return to a New Jersey special needs school with medically fragile students. Governor Murphy has indefinitely delayed the reopening of indoor restaurants. The governor should also put school reopening on hold for the ESY summer session. But I am a nurse, so I will show up and do my best to keep our kids safe.
Essentially, we need to turn our schools into hospital isolation units for our kids and staff to return safely. COVID-19 is airborne, with particles so small they can go through cloth masks, hanging suspended in the air for days. Teachers, administrators, cafeteria staff, maintenance workers and students all need N95 masks to be safe. N95s are the same masks that have been reserved for hospitals because of shortages.
If collecting appropriate PPE sounds daunting, also consider most school buildings have fallen woefully behind on maintenance. There is no HVAC system to modify to allow for proper ventilation — our schools only have windows to open for ventilation. Nurses need isolation rooms for suspected cases. Only the wealthiest school districts will be able to raise the additional funds to purchase masks and thermometers, rearrange classrooms and hire more buses necessary to space out students. Economically disadvantaged communities will remain disadvantaged without an infusion of federal funds.
I am not convinced that returning to school will help with kids’ emotional well-being. I believe the return to school will emotionally scar them further. I have encouraged my kids to leave the house with health education about transmission, the proper face mask and hand sanitizer protection. Yes, kids hate online learning, but I believe anxiety would not allow them to learn in an environment that they might consider unsafe. All of our kids need instruction to feel safe before we send them back.
Making connections so that students do not feel alone should be the new focus of onsite learning. We are all dealing with trauma and need social-emotional support. Community connections are essential right now, perhaps even more important than meeting educational goals right now.
Christina Rule, R.N.
Indignation over racial incident
I am writing this open letter in response to correspondence I received from several Montclairians who expressed righteous indignation stemming from the fact that it appears as though in the Township of Montclair, a resident, Susan, or any other white racist, can freely and intentionally interfere with Black residents in the free exercise of their constitutional and statutorily protected rights, with impunity.
The correspondence I received was in response to a Black family having been harassed by a white neighbor for over a year. The situation spiraled out of control when recently, as the Black family was on their property working to enhance the property, Susan, a white female, approached them and became verbally abusive.
So aggressive and menacing was her behavior that at one point one of the parents asked the other to take the children into the house, as their minor children were observing the bizarre behavior. At one point, Susan intentionally, wantonly and recklessly solicited the involvement of the Montclair Police Department in the matter, by knowingly and willfully making an untrue complaint against residents, with the intent of interfering with them in the free exercise of their constitutionally and statutorily protected rights.
Susan’s actions immediately cast a pall on the family, disrupted the family from engaging in lawful actions on their property, caused them fear, trepidation and a sense of insecurity, while engaging in activities well within their rights on their property.
One person who wrote to me recommended a review of police procedures and training as a way of better equipping the Montclair Police Department to handle situations such as that arising from the actions of Susan. To my knowledge, there is no suggestion that the Montclair Police Department failed to respond appropriately on that day.
Training by Montclair elected officials and executives may be in order. For it appears to me that it may be a civil offense or a crime for a person to falsely report an incident to the police. If falsely reporting an incident to the police with the intent of interfering with the person(s) in the free exercise of their constitutionally and statutorily protected rights, or casting them in a false light, is not a civil offense or a crime in Montclair, the town council should explore making it both a civil and criminal offense.
The New York law might be instructive, under which Amy Cooper was charged — the 41-year-old white woman who was caught on video threatening to call the police on a Black man in Central Park, stating that she was “going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” when there were no such threats.
Perhaps under current state laws, policies and practices, or under the U.S. Constitution and perhaps the state constitution, what Susan did may be actionable by township officials and others tasked with upholding the laws of our township. The township and all of us who are freedom-loving people who reside in Montclair should support such an action.
Many people, like the family involved in the referenced matter, moved here three years ago, in part because of its reputation as a welcoming community that values and works to ensure diversity, inclusion and dignity of all persons. That people not only from the immediate neighborhood, but residents from across the township went to the residence of the family under assault to lend support or simply stand in solidarity was uplifting; another testament of who we Montclairions are. That the neighbors who witnessed the dastardly lies told by Susan to the police immediately indicated that Susan’s story was simply farcical was another heartwarming indication of who we Montclairions are.
I am respectfully requesting that Township Attorney Karasick explore the full range of laws available to the township and/or the victimized family for meting out justice for the pernicious and unseemly actions of Susan. Susan cannot simply return to her residence exposed for her dastardly deeds that are of dubious legality, and which caused anticipated damages. Susan must be called to atone for her actions under the laws she may have violated.
I am not a lawyer, and I am not offering legal advice, but it seems to me that if there are no other adequate laws to bring Susan to justice, the counsel might explore actions under the United States Constitution, especially the Reconstruction Acts designed to protect Blacks against both private citizens and government actors from interfering with Black people, and later others, while engaging in private protected actions, going and coming in a township as they please, and otherwise living as good citizens, under 42 USC 1983 and1981.
Given that Susan’s actions occurred in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement — dubbed the Third Reconstruction— the U.S. Department of Justice might be called upon to determine whether Susan’s actions are actionable under the U.S. Hate Crimes Act, and the state’s attorney might have a cause of action against Susan under a New Jersey Hate Crimes Act.
I agree with those who have written and called me. Something more must be done. I stand ready to do whatever I can to be of assistance in this matter. As a lifelong resident of Montclair and champion of all its residents, I will continue working indefatigably to prod the township to realize the ideals upon which Montclair stands, and those that attract people to move and to remain in our town.
With thanksgiving and joy,
Renee E. Baskerville, M.D.