MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Greg Lembrich came out of his side door Wednesday morning and was assessing the storm damage around his home when he noticed the four double-sided signs stuck along his front walkway close to his front door.
Reading messages such as “Put down your guns b****h,” the Maplewood Township Committee Member was appalled that someone would be that brazen. The Maplewood Police Department was called and an investigation has been launched. MPD is now in possession of the signs.
Vic DeLuca, a Township Committee Member who has served as Maplewood Mayor for many terms in the past, saw similar signs on his lawn early that day. “I was pretty shocked… In 21 years in office, I’ve never had anybody come on to my property and do anything like that.”
On both governing bodies in Maplewood and South Orange, reaction was swift, and a joint statement condemning the actionswas issued the next day.
“Everyone was unanimous that we should put out this statement,” said Lembrich. “I wasn’t surprised, but I was grateful” for the backing, even from those who disagree with him on police issues, he added. “They were very quick to offer support.”
Lembrich, as chair of the public safety committee and someone supportive of Maplewood’s Police Auxiliary “maintaining the status quo” concerning carrying weapons during the recent debate about whether they should remain armed, understands why he might have been targeted, but not why DeLuca, who was more moderate on the issue, also was hit. But he thought it didn’t really matter why: “It’s unacceptable,” Lembrich said.
It was also “bizarre,” he said, that South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll would be mentioned at all on a sign on a Maplewood public official’s lawn. Kroll’s name was painted over the word “hate” on a sign that usually says, “Hate has no place in SOMA.”
DeLuca doesn’t mind that someone would disagree with him on an issue. “I think it’s very important that we have public discourse on issues. That’s what democracy is about… Personally, over the years, I’ve marched and I’ve stood and I’ve signed petitions and I’ve hollered and disagreed with people. But I’ve done it publicly and taken ownership of those comments.”
However, he said, this action was not an in-person protest, it was anonymous and “cowardly.”
“Under cover of night, to come onto my property and put signs on [it], is not very courageous... You want to debate the issues, let’s do that,” he said. “But I don’t think you should be violating the space of public officials like this.”
Lembrich concurred, and was concerned for his family. “I ran for this office,” he said, but his wife and daughter “didn’t run for anything.” He is currently serving in his second term. “If someone wants to disagree with me at meetings, in emails, online or at protests, that’s fine. I’m fair game. But my house and my family have to be out of bounds. That’s crossing a line.” He knows it was meant to send a message, but said he is not easily intimidated.
“When you go into a neighborhood, onto someone’s private property, any sort of moral high ground of your position is lost.”
DeLuca agreed it crossed a line. “It’s not right. People should be speaking out against this.”
“I know emotions are running high” in the country, Lembrich said, recognizing the larger trend of protestors showing up to protest at police officers’ and public officials’ homes, and the tragedy of Federal Judge Esther Salas’ husband being shot and her son shot and killed at her home. But Lembrich is hoping this was “an immature stunt, pulled off by, likely, people who exercised poor judgment.”
On the signs, he noted, “they consistently misspelled auxiliary” on both his and DeLuca’s lawns. “Maybe that’s a clue.”
Read More: New Learning Management Software for SOMSD
Read More: Vandalism at TC Members' Homes
Read More: Coronavirus Testing Sites, Aug. 10-14
Read More: South Orange Home Safety Town Hall
Read More: Maplewood Township Supports Medicare For All
Read More: Seton Hall Goes Test Optional
Read More: Post-Power Loss Food Safety
TAPinto SOMA is a free online newspaper serving the Townships of Maplewood and South Orange Village with no paywall.
TAPinto SOMA is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.