News & Politics

School Board Member Who Sympathized With Kosher Market Shooters Hailed as a Modern 'Rosa Parks'

Official government photo of Jersey City Board of Education member Joan Terrell-Page.

When two shooters killed three people at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City last year, a member of the Jersey City Board of Education attacked calls for “faith and hope” in solidarity with the Jewish victims and instead urged locals to be “brave enough to explore the answer to [the shooters’] message.” She also referred to Jewish people as “brutes.” While local leaders initially condemned her, the local Democratic black caucus rallied around her and some even hailed her as a modern “Rosa Parks.” She has yet to resign and will likely serve until the end of this year.

The board member, Joan Terrell-Paige, responded to an article in Insider NJ titled, “Faith and Hope to Fight Hate.” She commented on Facebook, “Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the jewish community?”

Terrell-Paige claimed that Jews harassed black people. She referenced a case from 2009 in which a Jewish man named Solomon Dwek pleaded guilty to participating with rabbis in a scheme involving the illegal sale of kidneys.

“This is just a small portion of the pains of the Black community now being ignored in this rush to faith and hope. Drugs and guns are planted in the Black community. [The shooters] went directly to the kosher supermarket. I believe they knew they would come out in body bags. What is the message they were sending? Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message?” she asked.

One of the shooters with whom she sympathized had posted anti-police and anti-Semitic posts on social media, including language linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

While she deleted the post, she has not apologized. The post made clear Terrell-Paige was speaking in her personal capacity, not as a member of the board of education.

Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop called for her to step down. So did Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The president of the Board of Education, Sudhan Thomas, promised he would introduce a resolution at the next meeting censuring her and asking her to resign. Yet three weeks later, nothing happened.

“Terrell-Paige’s staying power comes from a mix of neighborhood support and circumstance,” The Times of Israel reported. Local politicians have defended her, while her opponents find themselves powerless to remove her.

“Mayor Fulop and the governor were the first people to call for her resignation after her anti-Semitic comments on the December 10th shootings,” the mayor’s office told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “While neither the governor nor the mayor have any legal ability to force her resignation, the mayor intends on continuing to organize the community to advocate for her resignation.”

On Thursday, Fulop led the city council in passing a measure allowing the mayor to appoint members of the board, rather than leaving their positions up for an election. The measure will be decided by voters in the ballot initiative this coming November.

“Bottom line is we’re asking for the tools to fix [the dysfunctional board]. In the last 3 years: – 5 board members resign midterm – 1 board member overseas for the yr – 1 board member indicted – 1 board member saying public anti Semitic comments – 1 board member w/ethics charges – huge budget gap,” Fulop tweeted.

Fulop found himself in this position after the December 19 meeting at which Thomas was expected to demand Terrell-Paige’s resignation was abruptly canceled, reportedly for “security” reasons. Both opponents and supporters of the board member had planned to attend.

Local politicians started defending her.

“Rather than hastily demanding her resignation, this was an ideal moment for our locally elected [leaders] to sit down with Mrs. Terrell, clarify her statements, and be prepared to demonstrate empathy,” John Flora, a Democratic candidate for Congress, told Insider NJ.

The Hudson County Democratic Black Caucus praised Terrell-Paige for drawing attention to important issues.

“While we do not agree with the delivery of the statement made by Ms. Terrell-Paige, we believe that her statement has heightened awareness around issues that must be addressed and should be a topic of a larger conversation by two communities that have already and must always continue to coexist harmoniously. We have begun taking steps to reach out to leaders in the community to work through these pressing issues and feelings in a peaceful and productive way,” the caucus said in a Facebook statement.

When the Board of Education met on January 2, it was under new leadership. Thomas had been forced off the board after being charged with bribery. The new board president, Lorenzo Richardson, has not called for the censure or removal of Terrell-Paige.

During the meeting, locals vociferously defended Terrell-Paige, claiming she was not anti-Semitic. One speaker, Darren Martin, called the board member the “Rosa Parks of this era.” Rosa Parks was a hero of the civil rights movement, refusing to give up her seat on the bus and starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“She has an impeccable record in this community,” Martin said. “The anti-Semitic label is a bunch of crap, throw it away, and she’s not resigning.”

This incident will do little to stem the tide of complaints that anti-Semitism has made terrifying inroads into the Democratic Party. This should particularly worry parents in Jersey City, whose children will grow up in a school system overseen by a woman who expressed support for the “message” of anti-Semitic murderers.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.