A video posted on social media shows a group of men, including a New Jersey state corrections officer, taunting and mocking protesters in Gloucester County Monday – with one kneeling on a man’s neck, reenacting the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The officer has been suspended, officials said Tuesday. Online commentators and state employment records identify him as Joseph DeMarco.
A second person who participated in the taunting was fired from their job at FedEx, the company said.
And late Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy condemned the incident, writing on Twitter, “Mocking George Floyd’s murder in effort to belittle the calls for justice from our Black and Brown communities is repugnant. I condemn this behavior in the strongest terms possible. We won’t let the actions of a few distract from our progress toward dismantling systemic racism.”
Floyd’s death over Memorial Day weekend has set off protests across the world.
That was the case Monday, when peaceful, chanting protesters marched along Delsea Drive in Franklinville, an unincorporated community in Franklin Township.
As the protest passed by a property, a group of men, with a President Trump banner behind them, shouted at protesters as one had his knee on the back of a man’s neck.
“You don’t comply, that’s what happens,” the kneeling man is heard saying in one video. “You don’t comply, that’s what happens right here, look. He didn’t comply. He didn’t comply. If he would’ve complied, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Floyd, who was being arrested for alleged forgery, was not armed and did not appear to be resisting arrest, according to multiple reports. The officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck – for nearly nine minutes – was ultimately charged with second-degree murder. The three other officers involved were also fired and were all later charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Multiple calls to Franklin Township Police Chief Brian Zimmer and Mayor John Bruno were not immediately returned. But Tuesday afternoon, the mayor, police chief and police department released a joint statement that does not specifically reference the kneeling incident, but denounces the actions of “certain individuals.”
“The Franklin Township committee and its police department are appalled and saddened by the revolting actions of certain individuals after Monday’s locally organized peaceful march,” the statement said. “This is not who we are as a community. We support the goal of this march which is to spread awareness and to ensure a better future for all of us.”
Franklin Township police, who rode alongside protesters, were aware of the group of men taunting those in the march, with one officer telling protesters they would ride ahead and provide a physical buffer, according to a marcher named Russell, who is one of the people who recorded the reenactors. He declined to have his full name published.
In the joint statement, Franklin Township police said they are investigating the incident, but did not release any further details or charges.
Social media commenters later outed one of the reenactors as a state corrections officer. On Tuesday, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) confirmed that a senior correctional police officer participated in the reenactment.
“We have been made aware that one of our officers from Bayside State Prison participated in the filming of a hateful and disappointing video that mocked the killing of George Floyd,” said Matt Schuman, DOC spokesman.
The officer, whose name was not made public by the agency, was suspended from his post and was banned from state DOC facilities, pending an investigation, Schuman said. The officer was hired in 2002 and worked at Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Burlington County until January 2019, when he moved to Bayside.
The corrections officers’ union, PBA Local 105, posted a statement on Facebook Tuesday which did not specifically mention the incident, but said:
“Make no mistake about it—under absolutely no circumstance do we condone nor will we ever tolerate actions and expressions of discrimination, harassment and hatred based on race, faith, skin color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or disability. We need to continue practicing tolerance and understanding; not discrimination and hate.”
Another reenactor was identified as an employee of FedEx, which a company spokesperson confirmed late Tuesday.
“The behavior depicted in the video … is appalling and offensive. The employee in question was immediately removed from all FedEx work duties while our investigation is concluded and all internal procedures are followed,” FedEx said in a statement. “A diverse and inclusive workforce is at the heart of our business, and we stand with those who support justice and equality.”
Late Tuesday, the company said they’d fired the employee, saying, “FedEx holds its team members to a high standard of personal conduct, and we do not tolerate the kind of appalling and offensive behavior depicted in this video. The individual involved is no longer employed by FedEx. A diverse and inclusive workforce is at the heart of our business, and we stand with those who support justice and equality.”
The videos also show the group of men standing in front of a pickup truck on a property with an American flag and a sign that says, “All Lives Matter.” The property is owned by James and Toni Demarco, according to property records.
Russell, a lifelong Franklinville resident, said the marchers saw the reenactors on the first leg of the march, and they yelled, “All lives matter.” On the way back, more people had joined them and the group reenacted Floyd’s killing, he said.
“He was ready,” said Russell.
In one video that appears to be shot by one of the men involved in the reenactment, a man is heard responding to protesters’ chants of “Black Lives Matter,” with “to no one.” The videos show the group of men standing in what appears to be a firewood business, with a sign advertising firewood for sale. The phone number listed on the sign had been disconnected as of Tuesday.
Russell, who is Black, said some of the men who taunted protesters had made racist and inflammatory remarks before on social media platforms. What bothered Russell the most was that young people who joined the protest were now exposed to hate while marching peacefully.
“That gentleman is somebody’s uncle,” Russell said of the man who kneeled. “That gentleman is somebody’s father. So you can imagine the hate that he has been feeling and the generations that come from him. That’s what probably hurt the most. To know that hate is not just being from them, but it’s being continued.”
For Russell, the group of men and what they did speaks to an ugly secret that protests like the one in Franklinville Monday will hopefully shed light on: racism is everywhere.
“I want people to see, they think this only exists in the deep south,” he said. “Or in the midwest or the middle of the country where there’s only three houses in a town. That’s not the case. We want people to understand and see racism exists everywhere.”