Newark’s George Floyd Statue is Here to Stay, but Not All Newarkers Agree on What it Means

The George Floyd statue. Credit: Darren Tobia.

A bronze statue of George Floyd, once thought to be a temporary installation, will stay within Newark’s borders for good. The city council voted on Friday to keep the statue, but residents are still debating what it represents.

The 700-pound statue was unveiled at City Hall two years ago on Juneteenth as a gift from actor Leon Pinkney, though it was unclear at the time how long it would remain there. Pinkney argued that — while it bears Floyd’s likeness — it is meant to honor his humanity. “I didn’t want people to forget why they marched for a person they didn’t know,” said Pinkney, who told the Four Oranges the idea for the statue came to him in a dream.

Since then, a common criticism of the statue has been that Floyd is not from Newark and shouldn’t have received such a prominent placement near the steps of City Hall. In fact, it arrived before the statue of former Mayor Ken Gibson was placed there last September.

Others, like Newark resident Debra Salter, believe that Floyd, despite his tragic death in 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, isn’t worthy of a monument.

“I don’t want our sons looking at him as a role model,” Salter, a community activist, said at the last council meeting.

Last Thursday, Councilman Dupré Kelly called Floyd a “stranger” to Newark and wanted the city to instead honor local victims of police brutality and gun violence. But at the council meeting the following day, Kelly reconsidered his stance after talking to his “elders.” “I just want people to realize the other names that don’t get mentioned in this city — and we understand George Floyd is a symbol of that,” Kelly said.

On the day the statue was dedicated, Mayor Ras Baraka, gave a sermon on the nation’s legacy of lynching black men. “There are people in Newark who have been victims of gun violence. Immediately we have a knee-jerk reaction and we say, why don’t we have statues of them?” Baraka said. “George Floyd represents a lot more than himself.”

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