A white supremacist group called the New Jersey European Heritage Association has posted flyers in town announcing an “It’s OK to be white” march at noon on Palmer Square this Saturday, Jan. 12. About half a dozen members of the group marched along Nassau Street back in November.
Groups planning to take part in protests and counterprotests on Palmer Square in Princeton this Saturday need to obtain permits, police said Friday. The permits are issued through the municipal clerk’s office at 400 Witherspoon Street.
Several groups are organizing counter protests Saturday. Some groups are planning to meet at Tiger Park. Others are planning to gather on Hinds Plaza. It is unclear how many protesters and counterprotesters will show up on Saturday. The main counterprotest has been organized by Princeton High School students and a teacher in the Princeton Public Schools. Not in Our Town has some members that will be participating in the counterprotest, but a Not in Our Town representative said the group is not a formal organizer of any counterprotest rally.
As a safety precaution, several streets in and around the Palmer Square will be closed Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. because of the large crowds expected, and for safety reasons, police said. Motorists should avoid the area and expect delays.
Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter is urging groups to obtain a permit. The purpose of the permit is to give us the opportunity to assist you in safely organizing peaceful protests. Protesters may carry signs that are not attached to poles or sticks. Weapons, glass bottles and plastic water bottles will not be allowed in designated protest areas on Palmer Square, police said.
Palmer Square and Hulfish St. will be closed to all motor vehicle traffic beginning at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12. Nassau Street will be shut down between University Place and Witherspoon Street at 10 a.m.
The New Jersey European Heritage Association is a small group, but it is unclear if others will join in their march. On social media and in comments posted on news stories about the march, there has been a great deal of debate about whether it is best to join a counterprotest or ignore the march and deny the group any attention at all.
Many people expect that the rally to be a small gathering, but the counterprotests are expected to draw large crowds. Some downtown businesses have decided to remain closed Saturday. Some businesses like aZams have created store front displays with an inclusivity or solidarity theme. Labyrinth Books is planning a window display with a counter-riff on the organization’s slogan by putting up signs that say “It’s ok to be thoughtful, critical, self-critical, political, hopeful, unified, un-bigoted, respectful, joyful, informed, skeptical, generous, anti-racist.”
On Thursday, the Jewish Center of Princeton hosted many community leaders for a conversation with the police chief so he could give them some background about the rally. Local, state and Federal officials have worked together to organize hundreds of officers who will have a strong presence to protect everyone who will be at the rally. Police officers will also patrol the Jewish Center and the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University.
“I know many people feel we should organize a presence in Palmer Square this Saturday. Based on my conversations with Chief Sutter and other leaders, we have decided to not do so. If, God forbid, things get out of hand on Saturday, I do not want any of us to be nearby. More important, I firmly believe that ignoring these groups is the best thing we can do,” Rabbi Adam Feldman wrote in a message to members of the Jewish Center.
“I plan to make pro-peace and anti-violence statements as I pray with the congregation on Shabbat morning, and invite you to join us and note how many of our prayers include references to peace, cooperation, and love. This Shabbat we will continue our reading of the exodus from Egypt and we can compare the violence of Biblical times to our day,” Feldman wrote. “As we say our own Shabbat prayers, let’s add a special prayer for the members of our local police force, who face incredible challenges and who work so hard to protect our safety and security.”
Elected officials around the state issues statements and press releases condemning the plans for the New Jersey European Heritage march.
“These few people who choose to spew their hatred want to divide our community. They will not and cannot ever prevail here in Princeton, the State, or the country as a whole, because an attack on our neighbors is not just an attack on our neighborhoods, but on our humanity. There is no room in our community for those who would choose hate, bigotry, and ignorance over love, empathy, and understanding,” New Jersey Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker said. “I will stand with my community this Saturday, as we peacefully demonstrate that diversity and compassion for each other is far mightier than the vile hatred of those white supremacists who have chosen to gather because hate has no home here.”
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman called on people to protest peacefully.
“The freedom of speech that protects you and me unfortunately protects the right of those who have planned a white supremacist rally in our community this weekend. While they may come to spout hate and division, I’m confident they will quickly learn that our neighborhoods offer few sympathetic ears. I am proud of those in Princeton who reject this kind of bigotry and inhumanity, choosing to respond with love and inclusivity. I know many in Princeton will want to confront hate and stand up for their friends, classmates and colleagues. If you do, I implore you to protest peacefully. Don’t let their hate poison your own heart. Show them that Princeton rejects hate and violence.”