NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Protesters against police brutality and Governor Chris Christie’s decision to dispatch 150 New Jersey State Troopers to Baltimore, Maryland, repeatedly disrupted a high-profile event held on Suydam Street.
What began as heckling turned into more organized chants as the small but growing group spoke from behind a large metal gate taller than all of them.
A small group protesters originally gained access to the event, held in the parking lot of the New Brunswick Counseling Center at 320 Suydam Street.
But they were quickly forced behind the gate by staff of the facility and State Police, who uncermoniously ordered the gate be closed.
The stated purpose of the event was for Christie to sign a bill expanding “Project Medicine Drop,” a program that “provides residents with a safe and secure way to dispose of unneeded medications through ‘prescription drug drop boxes’ located at law enforcement agencies.”
While Christie was running behind schedule, arriving 45 minutes late to the event, protesters took the opportunity to get to know the media from opposite sides of the gate, presenting their side of the story.
Activist Tormel Pittman spoke to PolitickerNJ’s Chase Brush, saying he was offended that he was locked out, after State Police Sgt. Johnson forced him to the other side of the gate.
“You have a guy who was born and raised in this community pushed outside of the gate. And you have people who’ve never been to this neighborhood in they’re life on the inside,” said Pittman.
From the outside, Pittman and other opponents of the detailing of State Police to Baltimore, shouted slogans like “Why wasn’t the community invited?” and “New Brunswick is Baltimore.”
Protesters invoked the names of New Brunswick residents Sissy Adams and Barry Deloatch, who were killed by police officers in the Hub City, Jerame Reid, who was shot and killed in December by Bridgeton police, and Phillip White, who died while in custody of Vineland Police last month.
An uncomfortable Christie struggled to talk over the chants, as he side-stepped questions about the rumored indictment of one his highest-paid appointees, and the use of $4.8 million in Sandy relief monies to build a luxury highrise in New Brunswick.
Protesters could be heard by television viewers and their repeated interruptions kept Christie off his game.
To make matters worse, about a half-dozen NJTransit and Amtrak trains barrelled down the Northeast Corridor, further disrupting the Governor’s rhythm.
NBC New York’s Brian Thompson was the first reporter to mention the situation in Baltimore, where massive protests erupted a week ago in response to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
In response to the question, about an increase in the rate of arrests for marijuana, Christie said forcefully he would never support the decriminalization of marijuana.
New Brunswick Today asked Christie how long until he brought the State Troopers back to New Jersey.
“They were detailed for 72 hours, and we’ll talk and work with our partners in Maryland to see whether there needs to be an extension of that, or whether or not they can come home at the end of the 72 hours,” said Christie.
“That was the original request in the original detail. But that’ll be up to the Attorney General and the Superintedent of the State Police in coordination with the folks in Maryland who made the request.
“72 hours is too long,” the group of demonstrators responded in unison, without missing a beat.
As the protestors chanted “What about New Jersey?” Christie was asked to respond to comments made by the head of the police union that represents State Troopers called the deployment “a political move” and “felt that his Troopers were being put in harm’s way for political purposes.”
“Would you react to that please?” asked Thompson, the veteran NBC New York reporter.
Christie declined to respond, saying “No,” and turning to the next questioner.
More than 200 people had already signed an online petition on the change.org website calling for a NJ State Police to be removed from Maryland.
“I sent troopers to Baltimore for the same reason that states all around sent troopers here, and other officials when we had Hurricane Sandy,” Christie said told a TV reporter. “When there’s an emergency in another area in our region, and folks reach out for help, we’re going to reach out and give it.”
Christie told another reporter that he also offerred to provide support to Connecticut Governor Dan Molloy on the day of a tragic mass shooting at an elementary school.
Christie was also forced to address reports that one of his top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be pleading guilty and getting indicted in connection with the evolving Bridgegate scandal.
“I don’t have anything to do with it and I have seen no indication that it affects anything having to do with other state issues,” Christie said.
Christie did not engage the protesters or attempt shout them down, instead ignoring them throughout his prepared remarks and only mentioning them in passing as he took questions for about an hour.
Several members of the press were also not thrilled about the disruptions, which they said hindered their ability to get audio suitable for TV and radio broadcasts, and interfered with their first chance to question the Governor publicly in many months.
Christie often faces protests during his staged events, called Town Hall meetings, where questions from the press are not permitted. Instead, Christie calls on a dozen or more of the residents who attend the events, largely held in heavily-Republican areas.
But, unlike those protests, where State Police typically escort protesters from the room quickly, there was no avoiding the group of about a dozen protesters, who could still be heard from the city sidewalk.
Michael Aron, a reporter with NJTV even asked the Governor why he didn’t ask the protesters to “pipe down.”
“I’m not going to do your dirty work for you,” responded Christie.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.