Hackettstown mayor Maria DiGiovanni blamed poor timing for an announcement Friday -- Juneteenth -- that a blue line intended to support law enforcement had been re-painted in front of the township's police headquarters.

An announcement was made Friday on the police department Facebook page and Twitter account that the blue line had been repainted. The mayor further shared the announcement on her own Facebook page.

But Friday was also Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the former Confederate states. It's occasion that has seen heightened attention after weeks of demonstrations, nationwide, pushing for greater accountability from police, in particular after high-profile and controversial deaths of Black individuals. Black Lives Matter and others supporting its mission organized several after the death of unarmed Black man George Floyd while being restrained under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

In many communities, the message "Black lives matter" and the symbol of a "thin blue line," meant to support police, are considered in conflict amid a national debate about the role of police and the use of force.

But DiGiovanni told New Jersey 101.5 the work was actually done earlier in the week, and the announcement on Juneteenth wasn't deliberately timed.

"Unfortunately the media person did the posting on what turned out to be Juneteenth, which was unfortunate timing. It was not a statement to be made against any movement. The statement (of support for police) was made five years ago and we continue to make it that we support our exemplary police department in the town of Hackettstown," DiGiovanni said.

"I take full responsibility of the timing of the post being published on that day," DiGiovanni wrote on her Facebook page.

DiGiovanni said the line was covered during a repaving project in the fall, but it was always the intention of the town to put the blue line back in the spring once the weather was warm enough.

The re-striping comes on the heels of the decision of Flemington Mayor Betsy Driver to paint over her borough's blue line just before a scheduled Black Lives Matter protest.

Driver, during a Borough Council meeting, said she had heard from many residents who told her they felt threatened and unwelcome because of the Flemington blue line.

"We want to make that a welcoming place for people to come and visit," Driver said.

DiGiovanni said had not received any complaints about her town's blue line in the entire time it was down before the repaving project.

"The town residents have been totally supportive of that blue line," she said. "There's a small minority, and I don't know how many of them actually live in town, recently that have taken exception to it  because they think it's sending a message against movements. It really is not."

She said that Hackettstown has hosted three peaceful Black Lives Matter protests recently, each with involvement from the police.

"I don't think you have to choose your movement. You can respect everything," DiGiovanni said. "Just like we respect our police department I respect the BLM movement and I don't think there should be a line in the sand. Just show an appreciation for everyone."

The mayor said that many of the department's officers are veterans and said Hackettstown's blue line offered a certain amount of comfort to one of those officers.

"He was brought down by a lot of the events happening in the country, and why should anyone be made to feel that way when they're putting their life on the line?" DiGiovanni  said.

Additionally, a street was ceremoniously renamed near Hackettstown Medical Center to "Healthcare Workers Way," and signs have been placed to show appreciation for the community's various first-responders. There are also plans to put down red lines near firehouses.

"When I hear the emergency whistle going off at 2 in the morning and I'm comfortable in my bed, those folks are going out to protect and to serve," DiGiovanni said.

Repainted blue line in Hackettstown
Repainted blue line in Hackettstown (Hackettstown Police)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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