BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A planned peaceful protest scheduled in Flemington at noon on Saturday is being embraced by borough leaders.
In a community briefing this week, Police Chief Jerry Rotella said, “We’ll be there to let you have your moment and make sure that you’re safe doing it.”
He added that the protest is about freedom of speech so people can voice their opinions and feel safe while doing it.
Mayor Betsy Driver explained that the protesters are mostly high school kids who feel strongly about what’s happening and want to make their voices heard.
“So we’re looking forward to having that event here, a peaceful event,” she said.
Driver dispelled rumors of protestors being bussed in for the demonstration.
“We’re working closely with the organizers,” she said, “and that is absolutely not true.”
The protest, a Black Lives Matter event, will be a demonstration against social inequality, racial injustice and the use of deadly force.
Black Lives Matter is an international human rights movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people.
The focus of this protest is George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis Police officers. At the time of his death, Floyd was unarmed and handcuffed. He was not suspected of a violent crime, rather he was being held in connection with the passing of a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
There is video footage of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he told them he couldn’t breathe. Three other officers stood idly by while Floyd was being asphyxiated.
During the online session, the chief assured everyone, “We’re not that kind of [police] department,” he said referring to the Minneapolis police.
He described the Flemington Police Department’s objective as maintaining a peaceful and welcoming atmosphere where people can feel secure living, working, shopping and dining.
“Our officers are high quality, highly trained and not of that caliber,” he said. “Our guys are very dedicated to the community and they want what’s best for the community.”
All four of the police officers on the scene during Floyd’s murder have been fired by the Minneapolis police department and criminal charges have been filed against them, with Chauvin facing the most serious charges, including second-degree murder
There was a passive “pop-up” event last weekend in the borough and, while this weekend’s event might be a larger gathering, it is expected to again be peaceful.
Rotella issued a statement supporting their cause.
“The Flemington Borough Police stand in solidarity as we condemn acts of racism, hate or intolerance of any kind, and will continue to move forward together toward an equitable society for all,” he said. “We pledge our continued commitment to building trust within our community and providing professional and courteous law enforcement services. We will continue to keep Flemington safe and welcoming.”
The immediate plan is for the Flemington gathering to take place on Court Street near the old courthouse, however, depending on the size of the crowd and its movement, streets may be closed to ensure pedestrian safety. If streets need to be closed, the chief said it would likely be between Mine Street and Capner Street.
Rotella added that there will be officers stationed at all of the road closure points to help direct people on how to get where they want to go.
Rotella said he was approached over the past four to five days by several groups, so what the actual participation will be is unknown, but, by his estimate, it will be a “high volume.”
The mayor asked that everyone wear a mask, practice social-distancing, bring water for hydration and be prepared to be outdoors. She added that she doesn’t know where and if restrooms would be available.
Rotella assured the over 35 people in the online briefing that the police department is prepared for anything, and that everything has been taken into consideration regarding the protest.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing,” he said.
Again, the chief said that the police presence at the protest will be to ensure safety and if anyone needs any kind of help, they should approach a police officer.
“They’re there to help,” he said.