NJ mayor backs off after charging teen $2,500 for Black Lives Matter overtime
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — The borough mayor has rescinded a police overtime bill sent to a teenage Black Lives Matter organizer after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to get involved.
The bill that an 18-year-old was sent for police overtime incurred during a Black Lives Matter demonstration that attracted about 40 people in July is unconstitutional, according to the New Jersey ACLU, which has said it would support efforts to rescind the charge.
Emily Gil, 18, told NorthJersey.com she received a bill for $2,499 from Mayor Mario M. Kranjac. According to the letter posted by NorthJersey.com, Kranjac said Gil gave three days notice for her protest, leaving little time to prepare.
Kranjac said that other police departments and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office "also contributed other resources and work hours that everyone remained safe."
"When you and your fellow protesters arrived, you were kept safe throughout your exercise of free speech and assembly. I hope you agree with me and thank them all personally," Kranjac wrote.
Jeanne LoCicero, legal director for the ACLU of New Jersey, told New Jersey 101.5 that Gil should not pay the bill.
"The ACLU of New Jersey is going to support Ms Gil and other protesters who face unfair costs for expressing their views," LoCicero said.
"Towns can’t charge protesters for police or insurance for exercising their constitutional rights. This is really an outlier. We’ve seen protests across New Jersey for many months and have never seen anything like this and frankly, it violates her constitutional rights," LoCicero said. "It unfairly burdens those people who don’t have the money to pay those kinds of bills.”
The short notice Kranjac said was received by the borough about the protest doesn't matter, according to LoCicero.
“We all pay for police protection through our taxes and police have their jobs to do. Nobody gets a bill after police are used.”
She called for Kranjac to "immediately rescind the bill and offer an apology to Ms Gil and everyone an apology for trying to prevent people from expressing their descent."
The mayor appears to have backed off from seeking compensation but local Democratic leaders were not impressed.
"After causing a national outcry against his tyrannical, blatantly unconstitutional and deeply immoral behavior, Mayor Mario Kranjac is now apparently backing off his demand for a local teenage activist to pay thousands of dollars for organizing a small, peaceful protest against racism. However, he has still refused to apologize and our Borough Council members are still exploring ways to hold the Mayor accountable,” the borough’s Democratic council members and candidates said in a joint statement Saturday.
Gil told NJ.com that she offered to meet with Kranjac but he insisted on an in-person meeting. She declined because of coronavirus concerns. He refused her offer to meet online via Zoom, Gill told NJ.com, and then the mayor stopped communicating.
Englewood Cliff's legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg; Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Gordon M. Johnson called Kranjac "ignorant of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to our communities" and asked the ACLU to get involved.
“We were outraged to learn about the treatment of a young Englewood Cliffs resident by her own mayor and administration. Students like Emily Gil should be celebrated and not be threatened with a bill for $2500 by her own local community for speaking out against racism and bigotry," the legislators said in a statement.
Gil told NJ.com that she was motivated to protest by Kranjac's position against affordable housing and believes he tries to "intimidate and silence people" who stand up for Black Lives Matter.
LoCicero said the mayor seemed to be targeting someone who supports the Black Lives Matter movement and "opposing the town's exclusionary housing policy."
"She received this bill, which seems to be targeting a particular viewpoint," LoCicero said.
The Fair Share Housing Center said that by sending the bill, Kranjac is trying to suppress opposition and maintain segregation.
"The Borough's refusal to reckon with its housing policies has led to fierce racial and socio-economic segregation that is shameful and has harmed the life chances of working New Jerseyans, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx," Fair Share Housing Deputy Director Eric Dobson said in a written statement.
He said that Englewood Cliffs "has not provided a single home that is affordable to working families — not one single home — in almost half a century."
The letter was called "preposterous" by Englewood Cliffs Democrats, who accused the mayor of trying to "bully dissenting voices" and called on him to withdraw the invoice.
“While other communities are encouraging their young people to become more active in civic life, Mayor Kranjac is so thin-skinned and insecure that the second he is criticized by a teenager his reaction is to try and silence her voice with a totally inappropriate demand for thousands of dollars,” Glenn Luciano and David Di Gregorio, Democratic candidates for Borough Council, said in a written statement.
Kranjac did not immediately respond to a message from New Jersey 101.5 on Friday afternoon.