June 17, 2020

Union County Democratic Machine Shows its Hypocrisy Amid Black Lives Matter Movement


(Photo Credit: Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com)

Elizabeth, NJ, June 17, 2020 – New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County stand in support and true solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and condemn Union County Democratic machine politicians for the Machiavellian, performative, and hypocritical behavior they have displayed since the death of George Floyd. The actions of Union County Democratic leadership speak to their callous indifference to institutional change and that they will do or say anything to maintain power – even at the cost of the people they seek to represent.

Over the past few weeks, much of the public outcry for police reform has centered around calls to eliminate the loopholes and administrative red tape that allow police officers who abuse their power to keep their jobs. At many of the demonstrations around the state, politicians have said they hear our calls for reform. Hillside and Union County Democratic establishment officials are holding a political rally this Friday under the guise of a Black Lives Matter rally – using the suffering of those who they represent and the Juneteenth holiday for their own political purposes. They stand on the dais, they say they will help, they claim to hear us, and nothing changes.

One of the most glaring examples of this is the recent battle in Hillside over the suspension of police chief Vincent Ricciardi by Mayor Dahlia Vertreese. The chief was most recently suspended for a reported stipend dispute, but his past is much more sordid than simple fiscal malfeasance. At the time of his initial appointment to chief by then Mayor, now Freeholder, Angela Garretson, Ricciardi had a horrible disciplinary history including beating a restrained Black minor. He was promoted anyway by Garretson and chosen over other more experienced and far less disciplined officers, including a woman of color.

“What we have here is a Black elected official who chooses the machine’s person, despite his history of violence in law enforcement because that is how they keep their power. They do not represent the very people who elected them,” says David Marcus Rutherford, a Black candidate for Plainfield Council, who continues, “These so-called Black leaders are in fact subservient to the political machine, which - at the top - is largely composed of powerful white men.”

Fast forward to now and the same politicians who defended this appointment are now trying, not just to stop, but to actively undermine Mayor Vertreese’s discipline of this officer: knowing he had a history of excessive force complaints and suspensions, knowing all currently active supervisors of the Hillside Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #160 unanimously voted in favor of No-Confidence in the chief. These officers went as far as to say the chief is, “destructive, vindictive, and violent,” and should resign.

Here you have a local official in Mayor Vertreese and every police supervisor saying this is an officer who will perpetuate the system millions across the country are calling to change and they are met by a brick wall of other elected officials, party bosses, and career politicians who want to prevent it. These same supposed leaders stood on a stage at a Black Lives Matter rally less than a week ago saying they would fight for reform. By choosing to side with the status quo and politically connected officials their lack of courage shows their clear and evident hypocrisy.

“Frankly, it’s insulting for current officials to ‘stand’ with protesters and pretend to hear their pain, frustration, and anger. Their attempts to monopolize the conversation of police brutality and give false promises to the community that something will be done has not gone unnoticed,” said Aissa Heath, a mixed Black/Latinx candidate for Union County Freeholder, who continued, “But, the greatest slap in the face is not just the false promises, but the active and intentional attempts to not only dismiss the demands of the community, but to keep corrupted and bought loyalists in office at the cost of bringing justice to Union County.”

The same politicians who stood at those rallies when the mic was hot to say they supported Black lives show their true motives. We are stuck in a broken system run by politicians who claim to be Democrats but legislate like 1980’s Republican’s, enveloped in institutional racism, with a veneer of equality and inclusion due to their affiliation with our party. But this is what happens when a corrupt political machine controls every lever of power, they speak out about injustice and do nothing while the public cries out for reform. This cannot stand.

To be anti-racist is to actively fight systems of injustice and oppression; being ‘non-racist’ implies a silent and seemingly color-blind world view that always favors those perpetrating injustices against Black and Brown bodies – especially when legitimized by the state. As long-time elected officials these career politicians have had the ability to pass laws to help the Black community for decades, and the most they are giving are political speeches that serve no other end but to coopt demonstrations to shallowly perform solidarity and get their “ally” merit badge. They are not doing anything to dismantle institutional racism.

Last week Mayor Bollwage attempted to earn his ally badge by appearing at was nearly a State-sponsored Black Lives Matter rally to appear to stand against institutional racism. Simultaneously, he was trying to shut down a community organized Black Lives Matter rally and used the Elizabeth Police Department’s social media to attempt to delegitimize the community's demonstration. But Mayor Bollwage is no friend of the community he purports to represent. Last year, he came to the defense of his longtime ally, former Police Director James Cosgrove, after the Union County Prosecutors office found credible evidence of Cosgrove’s use of racial and gendered slurs against the rank and file officers under his supervision creating a hostile work environment for Elizabeth’s officers.

While they say they support minority communities, Union County Democratic party chairs and officials did not fight hard enough to legalize cannabis or to stop abhorrent arrests caused by draconian laws that disproportionally target and impact people of color. While they say they support minority communities, they would rather use scarce resources not to help the public but to defend a police chief who has a noted history of excessive force and brutality. These are not anti-racist acts. They are acts that further abuse people of color and the public will no longer sit idly by while this exploitation continues.

“This organization was founded to give people a voice,” said Jason Krychiw, Interim Chairperson of NJ Progressive Democrats of Union County, “and we will use our collective privilege to amplify these issues until we see the change we need, and our community deserves.”

The words we hear from politicians at these rallies are hollow, and doubly so if they do not use their power to enact substantial legislative changes. But we learn everything we need to know about the leadership of the Union County Democratic machine when it actively attempts to thwart the efforts of an elected mayor of color who is simply attempting to hold officials accountable for their violent immoral behavior. Actions speak louder than words, and right now the Union County Democratic Committee’s actions speak volumes: they are content with systematic institutional racism because it benefits the political bosses – and they will do nothing to change it.

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