In wake of fatal shooting of Najee Seabrooks, few attend Operation Ceasefire peace march

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PATERSON — Fewer than 25 people joined in the city’s annual Operation Ceasefire peace march on Saturday morning, a sparse showing that participants attributed to community anger over the recent police shooting of Najee Seabrooks.

In other years during the past two decades, the march has drawn more than 100 participants.

“It changed everything — everybody’s mad,” William Henry said of Seabrooks’ killing, noting that many people refused to join in this year as an act of protest. The community leader said he understood those sentiments.

“Nobody should call for help and die,” Henry said of the circumstances of Seabrooks being shot by police.

Nevertheless, Henry’s organization has a motto — “if we march, we march” — meaning that nothing stands in the way of their annual tradition, not even rainfall.

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The procession of about 23 people, mostly police officers and clergy members, began with a sermon at North View Baptist Church near Cobb Park in the 1st Ward, proceeded down North Main Street and ended at Danforth Memorial Library on Broadway in the 4th Ward.

The police led some of the chants and prayers during the process. An officer in the Ceasefire Unit, John Annaloro, said a prayer for 28-year-old Kyle Newton, who died last year during a robbery.

“I do feel and pray for the Seabrooks family and I also pray for the officers that were involved,” Annaloro told the Paterson Press. “We do, as a police department, mourn because nobody wants to be in that situation — it’s traumatic for everyone involved.”

The march is layered in symbolism.  At each intersection the parade stops to honor the places where victims died of gun violence. Some died of gang violence, others during police confrontations. The route changes each year, but the organization always makes a point to cross over the bridge at West Broadway.

After all, serving as a bridge between the community and the police is the organization's mission, according to Winnie Harrison, executive administrator of Paterson Operation Ceasefire committee.

“We always cross the bridge — because we’re bridging the gap,” Harrison said. “We’re not against the police, we’re not against the community — we’re trying to bridge it together as one, but it’s hard.”

Along the way, marchers handed out palm branches in honor of Palm Sunday to spectators. They chanted, “What do we want? Peace in our community.”

As the parade passed an apartment building at 72 North Main Street, a woman threw open the window to answer the call of marchers

“Peace in our community,” she said.

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At the steps of the library, the final victim honored was Seabrooks. “Hopefully there will be no more killings,” said Frances Harris, a committee member. “And hopefully this will be the last one we have to deal with this year.”

Mayor Andre Sayegh attended the first half of the parade only days after Councilman Alex Mendez accused him of refusing to “face the people.” Sayegh told the Paterson Press that Mendez’s statements were born out of a long-standing political rivalry. “I’m here, I’ve been out, I’ve made every appearance imaginable,” Sayegh said. “Councilman Mendez should be focused on his upcoming trial,” the mayor added, referring to pending election fraud charged against Mendez.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh attends Annual Operation Cease Fire march in Paterson on Saturday, April 1, 2023.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh attends Annual Operation Cease Fire march in Paterson on Saturday, April 1, 2023.

Sayegh penned an op-ed published by Saturday vowing to implement reforms, including establishing a Citizens Advisory Board. At the parade, he acknowledged that more could be done to restore trust between the community and the local police department.

“We’re going to do everything imaginable,” said Sayegh, adding that he is traveling to Omaha, NE, to learn new strategies from their police department.

Meanwhile, Zellie Thomas, organizer at Paterson’s Black Lives Matter, said the reason he didn’t attend this year’s march was because he though it wasn’t yet time to return to “normalcy.”

“Because normalcy for far too long is the death of black men and women with no justice for their families,” Thomas said.

This article originally appeared on Operation Ceasefire march sparsely attended following Seabrooks' death