The following is the speech by Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell at the protest in Vernon Township on June 6.
I am here today because this is an anti–racism event, and I am surely against racism.
I am here today because the people of this town elected me not just to sit in the mayor’s office; or just to go to ribbon cutting ceremonies and council meetings; or to just post smiling photos on social media platforms, while avoiding the tough, difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable issues.
I am here today because the people of this town expect me to lead, and especially at those times when leadership is needed the most. And now is such a time.
I am here today because I am deeply saddened; because I am truly pained; about what’s happening to and in our country at this time.
I am also here today to stand with this group of nonviolent residents of our town, most of which are not people of color, and therefore, have no fear that they or their families will be subject to the many ingrained institutional, an often not visible, negative race and color factors that daily exist in our good but imperfect nation.
They are here because they believe that I and my family, and other Americans of color, should not have to be subject to those ingrained institutional negative race and color factors.
They are here because they believe that when we stand and pledge our allegiance to our nation’s flag, that the part where we say that we want liberty and justice for all, that this means all Americans, regardless of race, gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, religion, or any other superficial factor.
This is a time in our history where we as a collective group of Americans are currently being mentally and emotionally stabbed in our minds and hearts by the brutal attack of two virus - - one the novel or new coronavirus, and the other the centuries old divisive virus of race and color.
Both of these virus are negatively impacting us from a mental, emotional, and physical standpoint; / both of these virus are killing some of us; and both of these virus are posing a serious threat to the stability of our nation, and to our ability continue to make progress towards achieving that “more perfect union” that’s listed as an objective in the preamble to our nation’s constitution.
I must tell you that even as I think about all of the hurt, pain, sadness, and death that both of these viruses have caused, and continue to cause, that I am in fact still optimistic; I am optimistic that we as a nation will overcome both of these viruses.
And my optimism is based on the facts that we have good, determined medical scientist working to eradicate the coronavirus; and we have good, determined people like you working to eradicate the centuries old divisive virus of race and color.
As new and unknown as the coronavirus is, I have little doubt that it will be the easier of the two viruses to eradicate. For the virus of race and color has been with us from the very beginning of our nation.
In fact, many historians, religious leaders, political leaders, and others have labeled the race and color related issue of slavery as America’s original sin. And it is from that original sin that our nation’s many ingrained institutional, and often not obvious, negative race and color factors have derived from.
But as I scan the crowds of peaceful protesters - - and I put emphasis on the word peaceful, because I don’t believe that there is any reasonable or acceptable excuse for peaceful protesters to bring bricks, bats, guns or other weapons of destruction, to a planned peaceful protest, and to then use these weapons to destroy property and to hurt people.
No cause justifies that kind of action!
But as I scan the crowds of peaceful protesters for what we in America have for years called a black problem, I now see evidence that the negative, painful, and divisive issues of race and color have now been taken on and accepted by a large and growing number of white Americans like you, as an American and not simply a black problem.
This gives me hope, because it says to me that an increasing number of Americans in the majority group are beginning to realize that while we may be the decedents of various and different races, colors, ethnic groups, religions, and creeds of individuals who came to this great country either freely, / or as indentured servants, or as slaves - -
While we all may be the decedents of different groups who came to this great country on different types of ships we are all in the same boat now.
And the name of this boat is the United States of America; and that we all should work together to ensure that this boat does not sink because of the racial bias that’s built into many of our institutions thinking and actions.
Because if this boat, called the United States of America, does sink, it will spell disaster not just for some of us, but for all of us.
Let me end with this important thought.
As we complicate these grim circumstances in which we find ourselves some 240 plus years after our country was formed, we must acknowledge the fact that we are to a great degree responsible for the position in which we find ourselves, because we have not been diligent in using the tool that has been made available to us through our nation’s founding document - - the U.S. Constitution. And that tool is the vote.
For while it’s very self-fulfilling for us to highlight and criticize the negative comments and actions of others through our posts on our Facebook pages, and through our texts and tweets; while it’s very self-fulfilling for us to participate in marches and demonstrations, if we really want a government that’s responsive to the needs and desires of the majority of citizens, we must also vote.
So let’s not let this protest end here today; let’s carry it to the ballot box.