‘What can we as Black people do to feel safe?’: Helpline launches in N.J. tracking anti-Black violence

The Black Community Watchline in Middlesex County, N.J. allows people to report and seek counseling for instances of anti-Black violence, aggression and bias.

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Dispatchers for the Black Community Watchlist. From L to R: Lucinda Holt; Phillip Dowdell, Esq; Rev. Antoinette Moss; Katherine Taylor, Rev. Kermit Moss. (Credit: Kermit Moss, Jr.)

Dispatchers for the Black Community Watchlist. From L to R: Lucinda Holt; Phillip Dowdell, Esq; Rev. Antoinette Moss; Katherine Taylor, Rev. Kermit Moss. (Credit: Kermit Moss, Jr.)

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police back in May inspired millions of people to participate in demonstrations, and places across the country to rethink the ways they try to eliminate racist violence in their own communities.

In Middlesex County, New Jersey, Floyd’s killing inspired volunteers to start a non-emergency helpline for people to report, and get counseling for anti-Black violence.

The Black Community Watchline (BCW), at (888) 300-8105, now provides free and confidential support to Black people in the county experiencing racist violence or abuse.

Rev. Antoinette Gaboton Moss, a senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Highland Park, is executive director of the project. She says the hotline’s primary goal is to provide support to Black people in the area, so they feel more comfortable in their own communities.

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“People have been [endangered for] jogging while Black, birdwatching while Black, driving while Black, sleeping in their homes while Black. So I posed a question, ‘What can we as Black people do to feel safe?’” Moss asked.

The BCW also hopes to create a map to show where different types of racist aggression have been chronicled across this part of central New Jersey.

“So if something is happening in certain areas, we’re able to look at statistics, we’re able to look at trends, and then potentially have conversations with local politicians and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re seeing happening in certain areas,’” Moss said. “So what’s your response going to be in terms of creating policy toward anti-racism?”

The BCW went live last week, and it didn’t take long to get its first caller.

Lucinda Holt, one of the dispatchers working for the BCW, says a call came in just one day after their launch event, from someone who was stopped by police walking home from that very event.

“When he was leaving the event with a friend, they were walking away. Police stopped him, asked what they were doing at the event, questioned them, asked for ID,” Holt said. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens, so he called us to let us know, ‘Hey, I attended your event and then police harassed me.’”

Holt walked the man through the process of filing a formal complaint about the encounter.

“Nothing’s going to change unless we’re actually able to document and draw attention to what’s happening on the ground every day in people’s lives. And it’s really invisible to most people who don’t experience it. They don’t know what’s happening, but it’s happening every day,” Holt said. “That’s one of the great things about the Black Community Watchline is just being able to capture that information and support people to do something about it.”

Holt says she doesn’t think law enforcement is getting the feedback necessary to accurately understand the racial abuses happening across the county.

Rev. Moss says the problem of racism in Middlesex County, and across the country, is bigger than reforming or defunding the local police department. She says it involves holding public servants, people of influence, and individuals in positions of power responsible for minimizing racist attacks across the county.

“There are biases that happen, we see it on the news, we read about it. It’s not slighting [the police], it’s us just saying, ‘This is us taking action as people in the community, and these are some areas that need to be addressed that aren’t being addressed.’”

The hotline hopes to track racial profiling, police encounters, examples of institutional racism, and whistleblower complaints.

The BCW says it’s not a substitute for emergency services, and urges anyone who’s attacked or in danger to call 911 immediately and follow up with the Watchline when they’re safe.

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