FAIR LAWN, NJ: - The Borough Council reacted to the August 3 Rally/Protest with the following sentiments: unconditional condemnation of racism and bigotry; an obligation to foster healing; no one has to choose between good policing and racism; neither event went off as advertised; Black Lives do Matter; and pride in the diverse make-up of the town.
On August 11, the Mayor and Borough Council expressed their sorrow over the August 3 events that unfolded at the Rally/Protest. The Rally, organized to salute police and first responders, and the shadow Protest that ensued to support Black Lives Matter, devolved into shouts of insults between the two groups. Bergen County Police and Fair Lawn Police developed layered protective barriers between the two groups, approximately 200 on the Rally side, and approximately 50 on the Protest side.
While the scheduled meeting was occurring inside, a Silent Vigil was occurring outside on August 11. Approximately 250 people sat quietly on the front lawn of the municipal building with signs depicting their call to end racism.
Inside, the four-person council and the mayor presided over a meeting that allowed for 25% capacity of the courtroom (COVID-19). Police monitored the situation, keeping count at the rear door municipal entryway.
After conducting regular business, each council person commented on the Aug. 3 event.
"I know you're all here because you're angry, hurt and confused about August 3," Councilman Kris Krause said. "I am, too."
Krause said no community is perfect, but each community can strive to be more perfect.
“It’s how you rebuild when you falter,” he said.
Krause unconditionally denounced racism and bigotry in all forms, a sentiment echoed by the Mayor and fellow councilpersons.
Also echoed by his cohorts was his admiration for the First Responders, commending them for their “important work” making the community feel safe. He commended the police, saying no one comes forth unless they feel safe.
“Hate has no home in Fair Lawn is not just a slogan,” Krause said, encouraging residents to “stay engaged.”
Councilwoman Cristina Cutrone said she had been trying to “come to terms” with the events of Aug. 3.
“One take away for me is that we as a community, we need to do a better job at really listening to our black and brown community members,” Cutrone said. “We can’t dismiss their stories of racism that they faced and face in our town just because we might not have experienced it ourselves.”
Cutrone said the Rally was not what it was advertised to be but was “hijacked by political flags and symbols of hate from a white supremacist organization and right-wing militia groups.”
Press photos from the event show one Trump 2020 flag and one black and yellow flag with “PB” inscribed on it, although there may have been other flags there which were not clearly seen in press photos. “PB”, according to mutual agreement on social media, means “Proud Boys.” According to Wikipedia, the group is defined as “a far-right neo-fascist organization that admits only men as members and promotes and engages in political violence.”
Throughout the march along Fair Lawn Avenue to the municipal building, the individual with the Trump flag and the individual with the Proud Boys flag, marched near each other. Organizers of the Rally said they did not know the two individuals associated with the Proud Boys and said they did not know what their flag meant at the time.
Cutrone went on to say she believes she has an “obligation to foster healing by helping educate [the] community on different perspectives.”
Cutrone said in Fair Lawn, “Black Lives Matter, and we are also grateful for the selflessness of our first responders…Saying “Black Lives Matter” should not be misinterpreted to mean that “only Black Lives Matter”; it simply means “also.” “
Cutrone said, “I feel as a white woman who has led a life of privilege that it is my responsibility to use that privilege to fight for others so that they are afforded the same opportunities."
Deputy Mayor of Community Affairs Gail Rottenstrich said August 3 was “one of the single worst days [she experienced] this year, and as everybody knows, I’ve had a bad year.”
Rottenstrich was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, a reality she bravely shared with the public. She has since been declared cancer free after treatment.
Rottenstrich depicted the Rally/Protest as “divisive and political.”
“We do not have to chose between good policing and fighting racism,” she said.
She said there are ways to support police and the Black Lives Matter movement, which among them were, “Don’t call the police because you see a black person in your neighborhood;” and “support common sense gun laws.”
Deputy Mayor Josh Reinitz said, “Neither of the events went off as advertised.”
Reinitz said he heard, from both sides, “vulger hate speech.”
He echoed the sentiment of the rest of the Council, as well, “Black Lives do Matter.”
Reinitz praised the work of Police and First Responders. “They have worked around the clock during COVID, and they are worthy of our respect.”
He also invoked the words of President John F. Kennedy: “One person can make a difference, everyone should try.”
Mayor Kurt Peluso was last to put forth his comments. He began by talking about COVID and how “a lot of us have lost something” during this time.
He spoke about a basketball team his son is a member of.
“I love the kids,” Peluso said, noting the Fair Lawn team was made up of “black, brown, Asian, white, Jewish, Christians.”
“I thought, wow, we’re like a United Nations,” he said, noting he is “very proud” of Fair Lawn’s diversity.
He said the instances of racism that people of color experience are not shared by everyone. When he has spoken with various individuals in town, some said to him the change in Fair Lawn is "not everyone looks like me anymore."
Peluso said if residents do not embrace the diversity, then they “shouldn’t let the door hit them on the way out. We don’t want you here.”
He concluded by saying the August 11 Council meeting is not meant to be “an end point. But, it’s a start.”
The public portion of the meeting then began with statements from various individuals and those that asked questions of Police Chief Glen Cauwels. That will be in Part 3 of this three-part series on the August 3 Rally/Protest coverage and its aftermath.