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Protesters, counter-protesters clash near statue

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NUTLEY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A Black Lives Matter march in New Jersey ended with a confrontation over a Christopher Columbus statue Friday.

Passion on both sides and tempers flared. On the surface, it was a misunderstanding over the Columbus statue, but in reality, there were some deeper-rooted issues.

During a confrontation in front of Nutley‘s Christopher Columbus statue, the situation got so intense police physically separated the two groups with barriers and their bodies.

The groups, chanting “Black lives matter, black lives matter” and counter-chanting “All lives matter, all lives matter,” got too close for comfort.

It began with word that the group Nutley For Black Lives would be rolling for rights — skateboarding, biking and marching — to the center of town.

“The purpose was to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustices done across the nation. We are ending at Town Hall because that is the center of our governing body. That is where our police station is and our Town Hall is. That’s the only reason why. e do support the legal removal of the statue. Someone else, that is not part of our group, has made a petition for it. We do support it. But that is not the reason we are here today,” protester Catherine Pezo told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.

“I think that we’re at the time now, especially in this climate, where your words really just don’t mean anything if there’s no action behind them,” protester Aria Jennings said.

The march was to end near Town Hall and the police department, the same area where the Christopher Columbus statue stands. Rumors swirled it was a movement to take down the monument, so several dozen defenders circled Columbus.

“To protect our history, strictly our history as an Italian American,” Nutley resident Joseph Camelia said. “I have rights too, you know? I worked 80 years of my life.”

“Everybody else’s town, they tear him down, nobody stops them,” Nutley resident Thomas Hickey said.

GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS

In Newark overnight, the city directed crews to remove the Columbus monument there.

“In keeping with the movement to remove symbols of oppression and white supremacy, we have decided to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from Washington Park,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said. “We took it down with City work crews in a safe and orderly manner, to avoid the potential danger of people taking it upon themselves to topple it.”

Nationwide, there’s been a movement to take down statues representing historical figures connected to any kind of oppression or white supremacy.

“Every night we’re going to get tougher and tougher,” President Donald Trump said.

The president tweeted that he signed a strong executive order protecting American monuments, memorials and statues.

Back in Nutley, both sides agreed it didn’t need to get this heated.

“That’s not the message that we were here for,” said Anthony Dalbo, with the Italian American Federation of Belleville and Nutley.

“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Nutley resident Guy Caramucci said.

“There’s definitely a lot to learn and I think that as young people, it’s important to educate others,” Pezo said.

Some of the lifelong residents who spoke to CBS2 say this is not a racist town and they’ve never witnessed racism at all. Many of the younger protesters say not knowing that it’s happening every day is part of the problem.

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