FAIR LAWN, NJ - The public responded to tensions over the Borough Council's response to its handling of the 9-11 ceremony, which in turn reignited lingering anger over the August 3 police and first responder rally that was met with a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest.
Fair Lawn residents called into an in-person council meeting on Sept. 22 supporting Mayor Kurt Peluso. They were supporting the mayor's decision to ask the police participating in the 9-11 ceremony to remove their thin blue line masks, requesting that American Flags only be represented on 9-11. Peluso said he considers those masks political. There was an equal amount of fervor disputing that decision, mostly from those in attendance at the meeting.
A resident who identified as Alex said the police videoing the August 3 rally/protest were trained on the Black Lives Matter protesters, which he said was a symptom of a "racist police force."
Another individual, Dian Hartman, said the police are supposed to treat all groups equally and objected to his characterization of patrolling the Paterson border as though it was the "DMZ" (demilitarized zone).
Harold Seneker, Garwood Road, reviewed "what went right and what went wrong," referencing the August 3 rally/protest through the 9-11 ceremony. He was concerned about a growing sense of feeling unsafe.
"There's quite a bit of unhappiness around town," he said. "How would I defend myself? I don't have a gun; I felt obliged to think along these lines."
Seneker said he "firmly supports" the police and told the Council that people are not listening to them as much as they are "watching" what they do.
Mayor Peluso said he had conversations with about "three dozen" people since the 9-11 ceremony and most congratulated and thanked him for his decision to ask police to remove the thin blue line mask. He cited the New York City Police and their decision to not wear anything other than items that reflected the American Flag on that day.
Ronn Schuck, a resident veteran who leads Fair Lawn Honor Guard to display "the colors" at various events, presented the Council with a petition that had more than 1,000 signatures from individuals who condemned Peluso's barring of the thin blue line mask on 9-11.
Schuck said he was disappointed with the 9-11 ceremony and that it seemed put together at the last minute. The mayor spoke, he said, but none of the rest of the Council "could be bothered to talk."
Calling it a "disgrace," he said the ceremony failed to start with a prayer and felt "as a black man," the event was "whitewashed. You telling me I can't wear something, go figure."
And turning to the August 3 rally/protest, Schuck said it has been suggested that individuals on the Borough Council had invited Black Lives Matter representatives from Englewood, specifically those who used bullhorns during the rally to disrupt speakers on the steps of borough hall who were honoring police and first responders.
Schuck noted that while the Council "works for [him]," they "damn sure don't represent [him]."
Mayor Peluso said he has email proof the 9-11 ceremony was not hastily put together. A call from TAPinto to Borough Hall a couple days prior to 9-11 confirmed the ceremony was meant for close family members only of the three residents who died that day at the World Trade Center. That was quickly quashed as a "misunderstanding" and Deputy Mayor Josh Reinitz said it was a public ceremony.
Former republican candidate for Fair Lawn Borough Council Stephen Janiszak said the Council was "creating a rift" when they condemned the police and first responder rally at the Aug. 11 council meeting.
The resident took issue with the BLM protest that took place countering the Aug. 3 rally.
"Were they invited or did they just show up?" Janiszak asked of the BLM protesters.
Deputy Mayor of Community Affairs Gail Rottenstrich said the BLM protesters were "not invited" by the Council.
Janiszak said, "Judging by the comments from Council members at last month's Council meeting, one would think we had a damn KKK rally. We watched as our Council admonished the fine people of Fair Lawn for daring to show up and support our first responders and some had the audacity to, dare I say, show support for our President."
"You all sat there condemning this rally while saying nothing about the vile hatred spewed from the BLM activists on the other side of the street," Janiszak said.
Mayor Peluso said the rift Janiszak refers to "couldn't be further from the truth. You can pretend there is, but just because we have one disagreement with the police doesn't mean we hate each other."
Reinitz indicated he did disavow the vile rhetoric from the Aug. 3 rally/protest as published in an article on TAPinto.
Resident Paula Schuck said she felt the request from Mayor Peluso on 9-11 for the police to remove the thin blue line masks was "distasteful."
Schuck said she found the Council was "too comfortable disrespecting" the thin blue line mask, reminding them that it's very few who serve "on the front lines" of law enforcement.
Schuck summed up her feelings: "Fair Lawn is not a racist town; it's the five of you who made it that way."
Several callers into the live meeting supported the mayor's decision on 9-11 and expressed support for him overall, saying he is "always doing what is right."
The Mayor pleaded with residents. "This is not an us versus them situation; please don't choose sides."