HOBOKEN - Addressing mounting criticism over the mixed messages of maintaining COVID restrictions after attending a 10,000-strong protest on the streets of Hoboken Friday, Mayor Ravi Bhalla today explained his "personal decision" via the City's Nixle service.

"Many have asked about the juxtaposition of demonstrations for racial justice, including the one in Hoboken, with the national pandemic of COVID-19. The reality is that systemic racism and its impacts and combatting COVID-19 are both public health issues."

Coming one day after Governor Phil Murphy expressed similar sentiment, Bhalla explained, "People of color have been the subject of institutional racism for generations, which has resulted in the brutal murders of people like George Floyd and so many others, all too often. While it’s unprecedented, I believe it’s our duty to do our part to combat both public health issues to the best of our ability. This is why my family and I made a personal decision to join in the demonstration on Friday, despite the public health risks associated with participating in demonstrations right now."

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Organized by Allies4Justice, Friday's peaceful protest began as a rally at Maxwell Park, with a march along the Hoboken Waterfront down Sinatra Drive to Pier A Park, as planned. The event then went off script, as marchers turned toward Hoboken City Hall, then worked their way up Washington Street, down Hudson, back to Washington and back to Pier A. Many stores along the city's main commercial thoroughfare had boarded up their doors and windows after a week of violent incidents nationwide, yet others met marchers with cold water and snacks or hung signs of solidarity on their storefronts. A number of Hoboken residents turned out for the protests, while hundreds more along the march route hung "BLACK LIVES MATTER," and other supportive signs and messages from their homes.

"While residents will make different decisions in this context, I think it is important to be mindful of everyone’s decision, as we are one community and differences in opinion should be respected," said Bhalla. "I thank the many residents who also joined and wore face masks and made their best efforts to balance both health issues as best as possible."

On Sunday, the Mayor made the recommendation that attendees get tested for COVID, once again echoing the Governor's statements.

Prior to the protest, Bhalla had appealed for protestors to instead attend a Virtual Vigil organized by the Hoboken Clergy Coalition.

Among the first cities to institute quarantine measures, Hoboken has had 571 confirmed cases and 30 COVID-19 related fatalities.

Hoboken was among the first to enact lockdowns on local businesses due to COVID-19, and in doing so became “the model” for the regional response to the pandemic. Many of those businesses are just now returning to some form of commerce, facing an already uncertain future in the days/weeks/months ahead.

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