PATERSON — Fewer than 25 people joined the annual town meeting operation ceasefire march for peace on Saturday morning, a scant showing that participants blamed on community anger over the recent police shooting of Najee Seabrooks.

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

“It changed everything, everyone is angry,” William Henry said of the Seabrooks murder, noting that many people refused to join this year as an act of protest. The community leader said that he understood these feelings.

“Nobody should ask for help and die,” Henry said of the circumstances in which Seabrooks was shot by police.

However, Henry’s organization has a motto, “if we march, we march,” which means nothing stands in the way of their annual tradition, not even rain.

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

The police led some of the chants and prayers during the process. A Ceasefire Unit officer, John Annaloro, prayed for Kyle Newton, 28, who was killed last year during a robbery.

“I feel and I pray for the Seabrooks family and I also pray for the officers that were involved,” Annaloro told the Paterson Press. “As a police department, we cry because no one wants to be in that situation, it’s traumatic for everyone involved.”

The march has layers of symbolism. At each intersection, the parade stops to honor the places where victims died of gun violence. Some died from gang violence, others during police confrontations. The route changes each year, but the organization always strives to cross the bridge on West Broadway.

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

“We always cross the bridge, because we are closing the gap,” Harrison said. “We are not against the police, we are not against the community, we are trying to unite them as one, but it is difficult.”

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

As the parade passed an apartment building at 72 North Main Street, a woman opened the window to answer the protesters’ call.

“Peace in our community,” he said.

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On the library steps, the last honored victim was Seabrooks. “Let’s hope there are no more murders,” said Frances Harris, a member of the committee. “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 just days after Councilman Alex Mendez accused him of refusing to “face the people.” Sayegh told the Paterson Press that Mendez’s remarks stemmed from a longstanding political rivalry. “I’m here, I’ve been away, I’ve made every appearance imaginable,” Sayegh said. “Councilman Mendez should focus on his upcoming trial,” the mayor added, referring to the pending voter fraud Mendez is accused of.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh attends the annual Operation CeaseFire march in Paterson on Saturday, April 1, 2023.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh attends the annual Operation CeaseFire march in Paterson on Saturday, April 1, 2023.

Sayegh published an editorial yesterday he pledged to implement reforms, including the establishment of a Citizens’ Advisory Board. At the parade, he recognized that more could be done to restore trust between the community and the local police department.

“We will do everything imaginable,” Sayegh said, adding that he will travel to Omaha, NE, to learn new strategies from his police department.

Meanwhile, Zellie Thomas, organizer of Black Lives Matter by PatersonHe said the reason he didn’t attend this year’s march was because he thought it wasn’t time to go back to “normal” yet.

“Because the normal for too long is black men and women dying without justice for their families,” Thomas said.

This article originally appeared on Lightly attended Operation Ceasefire march following Seabrooks’ death

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