Police in Camden, New Jersey earned praise on social media after a video of officers joining protesters Saturday went viral. The video showed Camden County Police Chief Joe Wysocki joining protests in full uniform, helping them carry a sign reading "Standing in Solidarity." The protest was, like many around the country, spurred on by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
The footage showed Wysocki wearing a protective face mask as he walked with the protesters, carrying the banner. In a statement to the Associated Press, Wysocki said the peaceful protests were "another example of our ongoing engagement, and a very real dialogue, that we are having with residents throughout Camden that has made our agency part of the fabric of this city." The Camden police force was disbanded in 2013 and reformed as the Camden County Police Department, with a focus on community policing and building relationships with residents.
"We know that together we are stronger, we know that together, in the city of Camden, we can create a space where policing is focused on de-escalation and dialogue," Wysocki said. He was also heard chanting "standing in solidarity" with the protesters, reports NJ.com. Camden Mayor Frank Moran and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross also attended the event.
"It was great for our community," Camden Councilman Victor Carstarphen said Saturday, noting how important communication is with the community. "Camden gets a bad rap on a lot of issues and we've been working as a city to rise. This was another level of rising together," Carstarphen added. He said violent protests would set the city "back years" and he did not want to see that in the community.
The Camden protest was organized by Yolanda Deaver, who was determined to do something after hearing about Floyd's death. She told NJ.com she even told her family she wanted to go to NJ.com. Instead, she decided to organize the march in Camden, where she owns a business and grew up. One of her social media followers is a police officer and asked if she could join. "It just turned into something bigger than what I expected," Deaver said. "I couldn't believe it. We walked in peace. I was so moved."
Wysocki was not the only police chief to join protesters. Genesee County, Michigan Sheriff Chris Swanson joined protesters in Flint Township, where he took off his riot gear to speak with protesters who peacefully marched to the police department. "This is the way it's supposed to be — the police working with the community," Swanson told MLive.com. "When we see injustice, we call it out on the police side and on the community side. All we had to do was talk to them, and now we're walking with them. The cops in this community, we condemn what happened."