When I learned that South Jersey’s unelected political boss, George Norcross, was set to testify before a state Senate Committee in November to defend his actions in an unfolding scandal over tax incentives, I knew that the voice of advocates and concerned Camden residents could not be shut out or ignored.
To make our voices heard, I drove up to Trenton early in the morning with my neighbors. These were neighbors of all ages and from all areas of Camden. We were students, parents, teachers, preachers, artists. I came as a mother of six in the Camden school district, a wife, and a community member.
We were there to express our dismay that Norcross and his corporate affiliates robbed us and all New Jerseyans of over $1 billion. We were there to express that Camden’s residents were disregarded and disrespected by power brokers like Norcross.
What we saw was painful. Our sister, Sue Altman, was targeted by the committee and its state troopers very early in the hearing. Despite the fact that she was seated in a peaceful position off to the side of the room, three white male police officers exerted force upon a righteous advocate fighting for a corruption-free New Jersey.
To witness this was outrageous, as Governor Phil Murphy rightly said. It sent a signal to all women who stand up for justice that they will face the use of force in attempts to quiet their voices. But what angers me most is that black and brown residents of Camden see this every day their entire lives.
Camden has been my home for 42 years. I have raised six children here. I have seen the powerful exert force upon black and brown women and men just for raising their voices. I have seen this happen to people across the country for no reason at all. We saw Eric Garner choked to death. We saw Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice shot to death.
It is time to stand in support of whoever speaks out for freedom, justice, and equality no matter who they are. We cannot allow for the forces of dominance to silence our voices. George Norcross and his legislators in Trenton will continue to try and take away everything we have. But we will never let down in the struggle for respect and equal treatment under the law.
Monday showed all of New Jersey that the intimidation tactics of Donald Trump are being put to use by Trenton lawmakers just as they have been used to suppress black and brown people of Camden for decades.
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We must realize that the suppression impulse of the powerful is a manifestation of vindictive hatred. Recognize that if Altman were a black woman or man the brutality would have been far worse. As she said:
"It's very important to remember that as a white woman, once I got outside and that awful part was over, I never had to fear for anything beyond the physical safety of being removed from the room, which was scary and nerve-shattering. I knew at the end of the day I wouldn't be ill-treated by the police and they couldn't get away with that. If I was a black woman or black man I wouldn't have that confidence."
Let us band together, reject injustice, and protect the rights of the residents of cities like Newark, Camden, and Paterson and all those across the state who have long deserved justice, equality, and respect. We must hold our elected officials accountable for their subjugation of New Jerseyans.
We must stop powerful corporate affiliates of George Norcross – including Conner Strong and Buckelew, NFI, the Michaels Organization, Cooper University Health Care, Holtec International, and Subaru – from robbing Camden residents of their city, economic opportunity, and access to a fresh food grocer. We must stop the hierarchy of racism that suppresses so many voices.
We are lucky to have lived to fight another day to help bring about education justice, the value of humanity, and the importance of speaking out for what’s right. We will not be silenced.
Ronsha Dickerson is a community advocate and cofounder of Camden Parent Union.