“Protect Us North Boros” march

Marchers seeking recognition of the effects of racism traveled from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Bellevue to the Avalon borough hall Tuesday evening, prompted by the July 7 assault of a black man by self-professed White Nationalists/Skinheads.

“It’s a life-changing thing,” Lanae Lumsden told Avalon officials at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Lumsden and her family, including young children, live mere feet from the Jackman Inn in Avalon, where, on July 7, a local black man was attacked by a group of self-professed skinheads who pledged to “eradicate” the world of people of color.

“I need to know that my community takes these incidents seriously,” Lumsden said.

The council meeting was the final stop on a march that included nearly 200 people and started at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Meade Avenue in Bellevue. From there, the group traveled to the borough hall in Bellevue, and then on to Avalon, with stops at key points along the way for prayer. The march was organized by “Protect Us North Boros,” and led by local members of the clergy who opted to take a stand against racism in the community.

The group had submitted questions in advance about the July 7 attack and Avalon’s official response, among them why the six people ultimately arrested some 11 days later were not charged with aggravated assault, a felony, rather than simple assault, a misdemeanor, and what training Avalon Police officers receive regarding bias and hate crimes.

Council president Josh Klicker said that officials could not discuss anything directly pertaining to the criminal charges now pending in the July 7 attack, but they would not hesitate to condemn the ideology and message of hate groups. He agreed on the impact of the incident. “I think it’s community-changing.”

“Our commitment as council is to provide the best police force we can...that is our primary goal,” Klicker said.

Police Chief Tom Kokoski was present at the meeting, and offered to meet with the marchers who remained for the council meeting. They stepped outside the council chambers and continued their discussion even after the council meeting had adjourned.

Pastor Paul Hassell of Christ Our Redeemer Church - North Boroughs is a key organizer of Protect Us North Boros. He described the march as being just the beginning of a community-based organization that will continue a course of activism and support in the North Boroughs. The group is collecting information that will create a database of racist incidents in the area, and anyone experiencing or witnessing racism is urged to message the group through its Facebook page, Protect Us North Boros.They also are mobilizing area churches to provide safe places for those threatened by racists, and will continue to provide informational resources for those who want to join the fight against racism and in protecting local residents from its effects.

"This kind of violence in our community, we cannot stand,” Hassell told those who gathered for the march. He was joined by Rev. Roy Sims Sr. of Mt. Zion, who said, “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.”

A preliminary hearing on the criminal charges is scheduled for Aug. 30.