Protesters: We received’t cease until store’s ‘All Lives Matter’ banner comes down

For most of the summer, a giant banner was hung at the Lakeview Custom Coach in Oaklyn, so tall it covered almost the entire front of the building. “ALL LIFE THINGS God bless and protect our policemen,” says the banner.

But the news thrown at busy White Horse Pike after George Floyd’s death didn’t go well with some local activists and neighbors who have been protesting the business every Monday afternoon for six weeks.

“You have to understand that what you are doing hurts people,” said Allison Bolomey, one of the organizers.

Bolomey said they will not stop protesting until the banner is removed, arguing that the message about all life is important and offensive to people of color. The slogan grew out of opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, which draws attention to how racism and injustice have made black lives less valued than others for centuries.

Timothy Stokes, a Black Camden resident who also helped organize the protests, said driving past the banner felt like an attempt to harass black people at a time when they are having the support of their neighbors need most.

They said protesters spoke to shopkeeper Pete Corelli about why the news was hurtful. “At this point, he knows. He just doesn’t mind, ”said Bolomey.

Corelli, whose business sells and maintains sedans and other paint vehicles, said he first hung the banner after the riots in 2016 and decided to raise it again after protests and looting began after Floyd’s death.

For him, this means standing up for the police and fighting the riots he believes are synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“What I told protesters is if they stop burning and looting, I will put the sign down,” said Corelli, 73, referring to incidents in other parts of the country. He’s also added a second, smaller banner that says, “Back the Blue and Stand Against Racism”.

He said he had civil conversations with several people who spoke out against the banner, but he disagreed that the sign was offensive to people of color.

“I don’t know why it is racist to say that all life is important. I don’t understand when they call me a racist because I say that all life is important, ”he said on Wednesday.

Corelli argues that saying that all life matters supports blacks, but Stokes said it downplays the issue of racism.

“At this time, black lives are the ones in danger,” he said.

For more than a month, the scene on the corner of White Horse Pike and Lakeview Drive has looked and sounded the same every Monday afternoon and evening: a group of protesters holding signs reading Black Lives Matter and singing their slogans through a megaphone across the street. Bolomey said they had gotten bigger and could now attract up to 30 or 40 people.

During the first weeks of the protests, numerous counter-protesters came to support Corelli as he sat outside the store, including those who played patriotic music and yelled at protesters who often yelled back.

But after the first few weeks, Corelli said, he asked these people not to come because he didn’t want to put anyone in danger “if there was a possibility of danger”.

Since then, he and three friends have been sitting in garden chairs in front of the shop, occasionally arguing with demonstrators and shouting back and forth or singing “All life is important” through their own megaphone.

The police were there every time, but didn’t have to interfere much, Bolomey said. They intervened on Monday when a passing man repeatedly shouted the N-word to black protesters calling white protesters “racial traitors”, an incident that was recorded by several people.

Bolomey, a Washington Township resident and organizer of the Philadelphia / South Jersey / Delaware Activism Network, said she put together the first protest on July 20 after a woman in Oaklyn told her she hated driving past the sign every day , and wanted to take action.

“We thought maybe if we showed the presence of the community here,” it would help, Bolomey said. “You say all life is important. We’ll show you the community doesn’t like that. “

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Rebecca Everett can be reached at reversett@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.