My Daughter Harassed At Maplewood Pizzeria By Owners
Today, my daughter, a 15 year-old sophomore at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, was subjected to treatment at a local business establishment, Maplewood Pizzeria, 489 Valley Street, which I have fought against all of my youth and adult life.
After being told by the shop owner that she could not eat the lunch she brought from home, my daughter complied and put her lunch in her backpack. She then sat with a friend who purchased lunch in the pizza shop. While sitting with her classmate she was harassed by the pizzeria owner, who told her she had to leave and called the police.
My daughter stood her ground since she had not committed any crime or caused any problems and waited for the police to arrive. Once the police officer arrived, she calmly left the pizza shop and gave her name and address to the officer. It should be noted that several other students were asked to leave but the police were not called on them; only my daughter.
My family has lived in Maplewood for the last 16 years and moved here because the town had a reputation for openness, diversity and embracing children and youth. My daughter is an active member of the Columbia High School community; a two-sport varsity letter winner, a member of the school band and an AP/Honors student.
She also has worked part-time for the South Orange Recreation Department helping with basketball instruction for elementary school children. Our family will not tolerate our daughter being abused in this manner and will be reaching out to township officials, the Board of Education, the local Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, and legal counsel to have this incident addressed.
My wife and I find the behavior of the local shop owner reprehensible and offensive, and will do everything within our means to call attention to the manner in which Maplewood Pizzeria has trampled on our daughter’s civil rights. While my daughter and her friend are both African-American females, we believe this incident also illustrates the disrespect shown many young people in our community.
Maplewood Pizzeria moved from its former location, approximately two blocks from Columbia High School, to the corner diagonally across from the school several years ago. It did so to make money off the student population at the school while at the same time harassing students.
The pizza shop is clearly only interested in exploiting young people for profit but has little patience for their presence otherwise. Why move directly across from a high school if you do not want young people in your restaurant?
During my tenure as the State Political Director for the New Jersey NAACP and member of the organization’s State Board, much of my effort was focused on the welfare of young people. And it continues to be my focus through my volunteer activities. Had this happened to any other child I would be just as incensed, and adamant that this local business owner be held accountable. I am taking it upon myself to make certain that students and parents are aware of this incident, and exercise their right as consumers and taxpayers to spend their dollars elsewhere.
I have little patience for behavior that is reminiscent of an era when African-American youth were routinely disrespected and abused, and will work tirelessly to eradicate those elements in our community who exhibit such tendencies.
It is not my intent or that of my family to live in any community Black and abused. If Maplewood, and communities like ours are to be what they claim to be, it is incumbent upon people of goodwill to have zero tolerance for the type of treatment my daughter received today.
Walter Fields is former NJ NAACP Political Director
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