A “Black Lives Matter” protest that arose amid threats of vandalism and arrest ended in Atlantic City’s mayor and a community activist who had threatened to paint those words on the seaside gambling resort’s historic Boardwalk peacefully joining together Friday.
Mayor Marty Small and protest organizer Steve Young picked up roller paint brushes and helped write those words on the pavement of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in front of the city’s Civil Rights Garden.
“This city truly understands the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Small, who is Black and who had announced plans earlier in the week for the city to co-opt the event in order to spare the Boardwalk. “In order for all lives to matter, Black lives need to matter.”
“We are saying the same thing right now — Black lives matter,” Young said. “And as long as we have something in common, there’s plenty of room at this table.”
Weeks ago, Young announced plans to write the slogan on the city’s Boardwalk. But Small said doing so would be illegal. He then decided the city would hold its own event where the slogan would be painted on a roadway.
At Young’s event, speakers included Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was put into a deadly chokehold by New York City police. His dying words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry.
“They say enough is enough of the marching,” Carr said. “But they’re still killing us. We have to make America uncomfortable because they have made us uncomfortable.”
While Young’s rally was being held with about a dozen demonstrators outside a Boardwalk Hall that was boarded up in advance of the protest, volunteers were already slathering paint onto the roadway. But they deliberately left some letters unfinished so community members could participate in the painting.
Young and Small jointly filled in a latter “A,” then passed their paint rollers to children who continued.
Despite the good feelings, authorities were prepared for possible disturbances. An armored personnel carrier with what appeared to be a battering ram attached to it idled outside police headquarters, its red and blue lights flashing and a driver at the wheel.
Small said that every Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend henceforth, Atlantic City will commence a monthlong celebration of “Black Lives Matter” community events.
There have been three racial justice demonstrations in Atlantic City this year. The first, on May 31, was followed by theft and property destruction for which about 100 people were charged. A second on June 6 was peaceful.
Young organized a July Fourth protest as the casinos were permitted to reopen after more than three months of being shut because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was among seven people arrested when marchers tried to block the entrance of the Atlantic City Expressway, the main route to the city and the casinos that are its lifeblood.
As a consequence of the July protest, whose stated goal was to “shut the city down,” the city is trying to strip Young of two city posts he holds.
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