HOBOKEN, NJ — After Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and Police Chief Ken Ferrante expressed concerns Monday night about a planned George Floyd protest in Hoboken for Friday, Ferrante weighed in with a new statement on Wednesday night. Ferrante condemned both the killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and that city's response to the protests afterward, saying New Jersey and Hoboken will do better.
[UPDATE: Hoboken businesses board up windows in anticipation of Friday protest; read more here.]
The organizers of the upcoming Hoboken protest, a group called Allies4Justice, have been posting bios of their members and information on the rally, planned for Friday at 1 p.m. They have billed it as a peaceful protest.
Over the past four days, residents of Hoboken —a mile-square city of 53,000 people across the river from midtown Manhattan — have been asking in neighborhood Facebook groups whether Friday's protest will be peaceful (as were recent protests in Jersey City and Newark), or whether there might be danger. On Tuesday, Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he was "concerned" that people may violate social distancing protocol for coronavirus (such as standing 6 feet apart), and about dangers from people coming to the protest for the wrong reasons.
In fact, the mayor of Newark said on Wednesday that people who attended a protest in that city should get coronavirus tests, as they were too close together.
One of the rumors spreading on Twitter this week was that anonymous activists had placed piles of bricks near the Hoboken site to cause harm. That rumor has spread about other protest sites across the country, as well.
However, a walk around the small park on Tuesday afternoon showed that there were no piles of bricks anywhere near the location, or at the adjacent construction site. (NBC and other outlets reported this week that viral posts about bricks at other protest locations appeared to be unfounded.) A photo accompanying the Twitter post about the bricks was taken in the parking lot of a Tom Thumb supermarket, a chain found only in Texas.
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On Wednesday evening, Police Chief Ferrante issued his new statement, published in full here:
<blockquote>We are facing challenges in law enforcement that we have never seen before. Martin Luther King stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” That quote sits on my desk and I look at it every day that I change my radio battery since becoming chief in October of 2014.
We now have moved onto a phase of civil unrest in our country brought on by the heinous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the generations of racism in this country that has brought about movements such as Black Lives Matter over the past decade. The officer who was charged with murder last week, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he was handcuffed, including 2.5 minutes after he lost consciousness. The conduct of those four officers, in their flat out abuse of a handcuffed black man, who was being arrested for [allegedly] passing a counterfeit $20 bill, which resulted in his death, is conduct that cannot be accepted by any officer in the United States. The other three officers were finally criminally charged a little while ago.
The tactic that was used by those officers is not part of any training taught in New Jersey and one that would never be tolerated in Hoboken.
Minneapolis has also shown everything NOT to do in policing in the first week after that homicide. Nights of protests that destroyed 170 businesses on Thursday night, most of them burnt to the ground, and included the destruction of their police precinct after it was looted, additionally it showed not one police officer, firefighter or National Guardsman in any video footage.
They decided to come in strong with hundreds of State Police and National Guardsman at 7 a.m. the following morning when no one was on the street, had one of their first arrests be one of a CNN black reporter (not his white colleague who was next to him) and then stepped back again the following night and retreated. It is clear that the Minneapolis Police Dept. did not have positive relations with their community and it’s leaders, their elected officials or their media before last week because you see no collaboration whatsoever amongst those groups to help bring peace.
We are much better in New Jersey and much better at the Hoboken PD. We have not had a civil suit against any of our officers for excessive force or racial influenced policing in at least over six years. We have not had a criminal complaint against any of our officers for this in the same time period. We strive to be better. I strive to lead our department to police based on a principle of fairness and equality to everyone! We don’t police any groups whatsoever, as I direct our officers to police criminal and disorderly conduct. We aim to de-escalate and start with a calm demeanor, with ensuring that everyone we come across is treated the same. We do not tolerate excessive use of force, and we do not tolerate racially biased policing.
My mission statement for the department is that we are to be community sensitive to every crime victim, resident, community leader, government official, member of the media, and our fellow brother and sister officers. We engage in as many community-building events as possible, even by doing that virtually during this pandemic, which has not yet ended.
This Friday, we have a planned protest in Hoboken. My command staff and I have worked around the clock since last Friday to ensure that we have a peaceful protest and peaceful day in Hoboken. The burden of the responsibility on me is to ensure that I direct our officers and the other agencies who will be assisting, to make certain we maintain a peaceful march.
While we are prepared to work with the organizers for the duration of the event, we are also prepared to attempt to prevent or respond to any negative situation that comes our way. I, as well as all of my officers, have taken an oath to protect and serve, under the authority of the people, and that is exactly what I have done during my tenure and will continue to do Friday and beyond. I always tell our new officers and those being promoted to listen to their oaths as they say it, and to live by that.
We support those in New Jersey and Hoboken, as well as those around our nation, who want to protest peacefully against racism and police brutality, and I am committed to doing anything I can to help end racism and improve police-community relations and police tactics.
Stay safe, be alert, and watch out for one another, and let’s join to make positive change in our country!</blockquote>
Allies 4 Justice began circulating this flyer on Twitter on May 28 saying the protest will start at 1 p.m., and advising people to wear masks and bring flyers.
Mayor Bhalla has noted that there will be a prayer vigil in Hoboken organized by local religious groups the evening before, on Thursday at 5 p.m.
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