George Floyd Protest Ends Peacefully
A demonstration in the heart of Lakewood held to protest police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd ended peacefully this past Shabbos. Prior to the event, the plan had elicited wide concern, especially as many similar marches had given way to rioting and looting in recent weeks.
Under the auspices of resident Marquis Oliver and the state NAACP, the group of several hundred people marched along Clifton Avenue from 9th Street to the town square between 5th and 4th, where several speeches and prayers were delivered.
The group was joined by several local officials including Mayor Ray Coles, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Bilhimer, Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, and Police Chief Gregory Meyer.
The violence, vandalism, and looting of businesses that occurred at other demonstrations, coupled with a long history of attempts of several groups and individuals to stir ill will against Lakewood’s Orthodox population, led to apprehension that the event would be used as a platform to attack the community.
While stressing that after meeting with organizers and conferring with state and federal officials, Lakewood Police felt there was no serious threat, a massive and coordinated police presence was put in place lest any threats arise. Tremendous efforts were also made to engage organizers, who were cooperative in designing a plan for the march together with police.
Last Thursday, Chief Meyer met with business owners from the Clifton Avenue area and reassured them of the department’s confidence in handling the situation. Even so, several took the cautious route and boarded up their storefronts before Shabbos, while others displayed pictures of Reb Yeshaya of Kerestir. Pizza Plus hung several signs reading “Ein od milvado.”
Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein told Hamodia that while a few individuals were present who authorities suspected of coming with plans to incite violence, the police’s efforts in both security and engagement went a long way toward ensuring the afternoon ended without incident.
“The overwhelming majority came with no plans for violence in the first place, but even the few individuals who might have had other plans saw the strong police presence and the way the police interacted with the crowd and decided that this was not the right address for them to cause trouble.”
Ocean County Health Officials Urge Caution As COVID Restrictions Rolled Back
As New Jersey prepares to enter Phase Two of its COVID reopening, the Ocean County health officials urged the public to maintain social distancing practices.
Over the past month, the Murphy administration has gradually rolled back lockdown measures, with some townships taking additional liberties. On June 15, the state will officially enter its next phase, which will allow for child daycare programs to operate, nonessential retail to open at reduced capacity, summer day camps to open in the beginning of July, and a list of other activities to resume.
As more normal functions resume, public health experts have warned that with many open questions about the virus, vigilance is still warranted.
“The last thing the public health community wants to see is a trend backwards. It’s so imperative people not perceive the loosened restrictions to mean they can just move on from the social distancing measures, including outdoors in public spaces,” explained Daniel Regenye, Ocean County Health Department Public Health Coordinator/Health Officer.
“No one said that social distancing is optional. While there are more vulnerable populations than others, it’s still everyone’s responsibility to do their part in protecting their communities … We just want people to play it smart as we move forward. We are still in uncharted waters, and while we are learning so much more every day about this virus, we still need our residents’ cooperation as restrictions are eased and more people start to congregate, whether it’s outdoor or indoor spaces,” Mr. Regenye said.
The recommendations of the county health department have become well-known to most people over the past two and a half months, including maintaining a six-foot distance from others, wearing cloth masks in public areas, washing one’s hands more frequently and avoiding any mass gatherings.
“There will be many more restrictions being revised and new phases implemented as we move forward during the pandemic, but the message is clear — follow the rules for everyone’s sake and we can all hope to have a happy and healthy summer,” said Gerry P. Little, the county Board of Chosen Freeholders’ liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health.
“Don’t let some of the images you currently see on social media allow you to think that large gatherings of people not adhering to social distancing measures is the right thing to do. We understand that people are anxious to return to some normalcy, but let’s just do it the right way, ” Mr. Little said.
Freeholders Protest Toll Hike
Ocean County’s governing body reiterated its opposition to statewide toll hikes after the New Jersey Turnpike Authority voted to approve a plan to use the increase to finance a $24 billion road improvement plan.
The hike was approved by a unanimous vote. The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders called on Governor Phil Murphy to veto the plan, a call seconded by environmental groups who say the hike conflicts with the administration’s master plan to reduce air pollution.
The Freeholders have frequently said that the Turnpike Authority does not take into account Ocean County’s needs and called for a seat on its seven-member board.
“I don’t believe Ocean County’s concerns will be heard until we again have representation on the authority that oversees our toll roads,” said Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “We are a county of 600,000 residents, and a very large percentage of our population are commuters. We need to have a voice on an authority that is willing to take our money and provides little in return.”
The plan will raise tolls by an average of $1.30 statewide, and the Garden State Parkway main toll plaza will be going from $1.50 to $1.90.
Mr. Vicari said that while Ocean County’s many commuters pay a significant share of the state’s transportation budget, they see disproportional returns, as much goes to fund NJTransit’s rail line, which mostly operates in the northern part of the state. He complained that decades of calls to extend rail lines into Ocean County to give alternatives for New York-bound commuters have gone unanswered.
The Freeholders added that local transportation goals such as the widening of Route 9 have been repeatedly rebuffed by the state.
“Ocean County has been continually informed by state transportation officials that dualization of Route 9 will probably never occur,” Mr. Vicari said. “Instead of asking for more, maybe there is something the State can do to help our commuters … Clearly most people using the Parkway and Turnpike are doing so to get to and from work. It’s their livelihood, and we shouldn’t charge them more for that.”