What a difference a couple of days makes.
If you don’t remember, back in April, Gov. Phil Murphy ruled with an iron fist when it came to political protests. The organizers of protests (who were seeking to reopen New Jersey and opposed the governor’s emergency executive orders) found themselves ironically charged by the police for violating those very same executive orders.
On April 29 Stephanie Hazelton, of Medford, was charged with violating the executive order for organizing a protest and earlier in April Kim Pagan of Toms River was also charged by the New Jersey State Police for “organizing a prohibited event today in Trenton in which protesters gathered outside the State House,” according to a press release from the state Attorney General.
GDN made the case in an editorial that the Bill of Rights should not be suspended during the pandemic, stating, “The words within the First Amendment can not be scratched out with the flick of a governor’s pen.”
A lot has changed since April. The protesters marching in the streets are no longer angry business owners and Republican discontents, but advocates for police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
There’s a major difference between the two groups of protesters. The Black Lives Matter protesters are not political foes of the governor, and they’re not questioning his judgement or blaming him for the economic fiasco caused by the stay-at-home orders.
The politics of the protests has shifted and just like that the governor’s attitude on protesting has drastically changed.
Apparently, no longer is protesting the great danger to our collective health, worthy of a disorderly persons offense, carrying a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
No, now protesting is an “absolute right,” says Murphy.
“I would say to anybody who goes out: You have the absolute right to go out peacefully and rightfully protest, but please be smart about your health,” Murphy said recently about the George Floyd inspired protests, according to NJ.com. “The decision to go out or not go out, as long as you do it responsibly, safely and peacefully that’s a decision, I would say, in this particular instance, I would leave to the individuals.”
Asked if he was concerned about protesters potentially spreading coronavirus, Murphy completely dodged the question, responding:
“Again, we’re not out there protesting when the nail salon is going to open,” Murphy said. “Please, if you own a nail salon, don’t come at me. Nothing personal, as compared to the death, tragic death in full daylight, a life loss that did not need to be, in any measure, lost.”
“I think we have to respect the right for folks to peacefully protest, but I would say, I mentioned already, there were a fair amount of masks so I would ask folks, please cover your face and keep your distance as best you can,” Murphy added. “That still does matter and we want folks to do the best they can at that.”
Perhaps Murphy knows he made a mistake, and rightfully corrected course, but for what reason?
Politics or science? You decide.
Either way, citing political protesters who oppose your agenda sets a dangerous precedent and shows injudicious decision-making on part of the governor’s administration.
This topic is far from over and will come back to haunt Murphy during the 2021 gubernatorial election.
In the meantime, more questions need to be raised about why political protesters were targeted in the first place.