Julia DiGeronimo and Lily Dastis graduated Verona High School with the class of 2019. They have come back together to organize something that they are calling a Rally For Justice in Verona Park on Saturday, June 13. The walk in support of the Black Lives Matter movement is intended to be a celebration of the life of George Floyd and other people of color who have lost their lives to police brutality.
DiGeronimo, who is also being assisted by Kim Sacchi (VHS ‘19), Marwa Elessawy (VHS ‘18) and Hagar Elessawy (VHS ‘16), says the rally will gather at the Verona Park bridge at 1 p.m. and then proceed through the park and west on Bloomfield Avenue to the lawn in front of Town Hall. There, Sacchi and at least three other former VHS students will speak: Dwayne Lawson (2019), Arianne Valderrama (2016) and Ariane Duhaney (2015). The speakers are all drawn from Verona’s community of color, which DiGeronimo knows is small.
“Verona is a predominantly white town but we don’t want to be oblivious to what is around us,” says DiGeronimo. “We still need to fight injustice.”
DiGeronimo says the rally is not anti-police, though she concedes that the organizers did not initially communicate that well on their Instagram page, VeronaForBLM. Black Lives Matter, a global nonprofit, has called for defunding police, by which it means reducing police department budgets and redirecting money into other government departments or community groups to address poverty, physical health or mental health problems that cannot be solved by an arrest. Defunding is one of a number of approaches to reforming police departments that have had high levels of brutality. (In a report released last year, the Verona Police Department ranked among the lowest in the state use of force.)
“To have a black lives matter protest,” DiGeronimo said on her personal Instagram page, “you need to understand that police brutality is a problem.” And, noting that there are police officers in her family, she said that police can also be part of the solution. “To fix a corrupt system,” she said, “we need people–and police officers–to come behind us to fight injustice.”
DiGeronimo has spoken to Verona’s chief of police, Christopher Kiernan, about what was posted to the rally’s Instagram page, and says that he understands that the intent of the protest is not to call for abolishing the police. Kiernan and other Verona officers will be attending the rally.
“There are good cops,” DiGeronimo says, “and we need those good cops to help support the issue.”