What’s Changed in Montclair Since the Black Lives Matter Movement Last Year?

News Analysis

Edie Koehlert, Editor

It has been a year since the murder of George Floyd. A year since the people took to the streets and tried, once again, to cleanse the world and to cleanse themselves of the evil of racism. In Montclair, there is a discussion of the self proclaimed “bubble” that the town has proudly marked. But perhaps a bubble is not the correct analogy since this metaphor communicates the idea that the town is impervious to the influence of the outside world.

Along with the rest of the nation, Montclair has felt the weight of this past year, but in terms of its relationship with the police force, not much has changed since this is an area in which Montclair is doing better than most, a police spokesperson. The Montclair Police Department took time to discuss what has happened, what changes have and have not been made and what the police-community relationship looks from inside the community.  

“A lot of what we’re going to say is probably not what you’re going expect… “ Lieutenant Tyrone Williams Jr. said. Lt. Williams is the commander of the Community Service Unit and Juvenile Aid Bureau. He is the officer in charge of creating relationships with the community and speaksing to the public. Officer Glenda Rivera, the department’s LGBTQ+ liaison, jumps in— “in regards to what the Montclair police department has changed specifically … Montclair seems to always have been ahead of the game.” 

The Montclair Citizens for Equality and Fair Policing, a collective of MHS students and others made demands for improvements, and these were not met. While the police partake in annual anti-bias training (which is state required) they did not accomplish the goals set by the community.

“A lot of things they’re calling for across the country— we’ve been doing,” Williams said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Montclair is perfect and we can always improve what we do…  but for the major things, when we talk about transparency… we’ve never had an issue of anything being swept under the rug.” 

In terms of student issues, Lt. Williams voiced he did not believe school resource officers were a problem for Montclair’s schools. Ultimately, SRO’s in Montclair do not make arrests, the entire juvenile police unit barely has— “We had one arrest so far since December [2020], and that was actually, believe it or not, a mother who charged her own son…” 

Montclair is not an outstanding offender of awful police practices. In this community crime is low, average household income is $126,000. It is an objectively liberal place— Joe Biden won by a margin of 78% in the 2020 election— and what the town strives for in terms of police reform is for more progress. “It’s like a lot of the people saying we need civilian oversight, we need body cameras, we need this— when you talk to the people and you say ‘tell me what happened with the Montclair Police Department that makes you say this’… talk to me about what’s happening here in Montclair” says Lt. Williams. However, the flip side of this coin is not talking about the past, but planning for the future. The bases need to be covered for a situation where there is disputable evidence. 

“‘I speak for the chief of police, I’m his representative in the community. There’s been places where people say ‘I want to see the chief’ and I say okay, ‘I’ll go back and get him.’”

This town expects to be ahead of the curve, and rightly so. “We are being proactive instead of reactive,” says Lt. Williams. Only time will tell this truth. Only time will decide whether Montclair was ahead of other communities in its efforts to lead the charge in police reforms.