Lakewood kids chant ‘kids lives matter’ over closed sleepaway camps
LAKEWOOD — About 100 children and young teens in this Ocean County community took to the streets chanting "kids lives matter" and "no camps no peace" to protest New York State's decision to not allow sleepaway camps to open in this summer.
The slogans are references of the much more common "black lives matter" and "no justice no peace" heard at countless rallies and marches over the last several weeks, prompted by the death of unarmed black man George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. That officer and others who stood by have since been charged.
New York State health commissioner Howard Zucker announced Friday that overnight children's camps would not be permitted to open this season, saying it would be difficult for attendees and workers to adhere to social distancing protocols and wear face coverings — considered key measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Overnight camps have congregate settings and sleeping arrangements in close quarters that present too many risks," Zucker said in a statement. "In such a setting, even a single positive case in a camper or staff member could create an untenable quarantine situation and overwhelm camp health personnel that may not be able to handle a serious infectious outbreak of this nature."
Police escorted the young Lakewood protesters Tuesday evening. Police chief Gregory Meyer said the group of mostly 13-year-old boys, some riding bicycles, began to gather on the sidewalks in the late afternoon.
The group grew to about 100 boys, all from the Twin Oaks neighborhood on County Line Road, Meyer said. Police temporarily closed roads as the march spilled into the street. Many were wearing white shirts and dark pants commonly associated with the township's sizable Orthodox Jewish population..
Video of march posted by the Lakewood Scoop showed police then sending the boys home and assuring them that their message would be delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo's office did not return a message from New Jersey 101.5 seeking comment about the protest
According to the Lakewood Scoop's coverage of the march, the boys chanted "no camps no peace" and "kids lives matter."
Lakewood school board attorney Michael Inzelbuch told New Jersey 101.5 that the march was not formally organized by any particular group and was an impromptu gathering.
He said the boys use of chants similar to those used in Black Lives Matters protests and similar social justice events was "inappropriate."
Inzelbuch said he spoke to some of the participating children on Wednesday morning, and they didn't realize the weight of the slogans they were using. He said they did not mean any disrespect toward the the Black Lives Matters movement and that some of boys are just "sheltered."
The attorney, who said he attended camp as a child and was a camp counselor, described the kids as frustrated at not being able to go to sleepaway camp — which they saw as a light at the end a of a tunnel. New Jersey had been operating under an only-recently-lifted stay-at-home order put in place in March, and has yet to resume in-person schooling..
Sleep away camp is a right of passage for many kids who look forward to a few weeks away from home, Inzelbuch said.
Vin Ebenau contributed to this report
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