Middletown Rally Sends Message Chilling Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

October 21, 2016

In advance of a rally planned by police at Middletown High School South as a tribute to law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders in symbolic opposition to Colin Kaepernick’s protests against oppression of people of color, the ACLU-NJ, the Central Jersey Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and Greater Long Branch NAACP sent a letter (PDF) to school officials expressing civil rights and civil liberties concerns. The rally is planned for Friday Oct 21, at 6:30 p.m., before the Middletown High School South vs. Toms River High School North Asbury Park Press football game between the two top-ranked teams on the Jersey Shore.

The event has been expected to include over 100 uniformed personnel, bands from across the state, and a flyover by the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit.

The Constitution and New Jersey law does not compel anyone — athletes or otherwise — to participate in this rally. The ACLU-NJ provides information to inform members of the public of your right to protest, your rights with police, and the rights of students with regard to police in a school setting (PDF).

Representatives from the ACLU-NJ and Central New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives issue the following statements.

Dianna HouenouThe following quotes can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou:

“Communities across New Jersey often recognize the contributions of law enforcement and first responders, but these recognitions should not have the effect of intimidating people with views on systemic racism and social justice. It is a disservice to students and players that an event that should focus on them, their families, and their communities is being used to send a message that people who express concerns about disparities in the criminal justice system are unwelcome, disloyal or unpatriotic.

“Defending the right to protest is more than a symbolic gesture — it means accepting the lawful expression of free speech, even if others disagree with the content. The police have a duty to defend the rights of protesters, not to use such a large-scale display of force that effectively silences people with differing viewpoints.

“The idea that patriotism requires suppression of criticism violates the very ideals that define our country at its best. And indeed, efforts to criticize voices that demand justice and equality speak to the impulses of our country at its worst.

“The criticism the deputy police chief expressed for people who decline to stand for the national anthem in protest serves to erect walls between police and the communities they serve. The people police are sworn to protect and serve should not have to fear that the value officers assign to them is determined by the beliefs they hold.”

Jasmine CrenshawThe following quotes can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Organizer Jasmine Crenshaw:

“We were disturbed to learn that this rally was a deliberate response to the calls of NFL player Colin Kaepernick and others for the just treatment of people of color amid systemic racism and police violence. Middletown’s deputy police chief said he wants to use high school athletes to send a message to professional athletes that everyone should stand up for the national anthem. However, people should be free to express their own opinions about the national anthem and what it stands for, and they should not feel coerced into acting on someone else’s beliefs or ostracized if they refuse to.

“The statements made by the deputy police chief and the event’s ostentatious show of power send an ominous, frightening message: that, as an official stance, law enforcement will not tolerate expressions acknowledging our nation’s history of unequal treatment and systematic oppression.

“Entrance to one of the biggest sporting events in the area should not require that someone accept an atmosphere that suppresses political protest. The magnitude of this event chills the belief that police should be held accountable when they abuse their power or discriminate against people of color, and pressures student athletes to act as props of the police.”

Eugene M. StewartThe following quote can be attributed to Eugene M. Stewart, President of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives:

“Sworn law enforcement officers undertake an oath swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States. The First Amendment and the protection of freedom of speech are a part of that Constitution. Counter to that oath, if what has been written about the event tonight in the Asbury Park Press is accurate, there will be law enforcement officers, in uniform, participating in a counter-protest to a protected right of the U.S. Constitution. This contradicts that constitutional oath, and it’s inappropriate for a State Police helicopter and other taxpayer-funded state resources to support this event.

“As NOBLE, we stand steadfast in support of the men and women who don the uniform in service and wear the badge of courage and integrity each and every day. It is with that same resolve we stand to ensure even if we do not personally agree with the actions of an individual, we respect the right of said individual and as sworn, we will protect the right of that individual or group of individuals.”

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