The march that wasn’t: Empty streets and a quiet Sunday at the State House in Trenton

Two police officers bike down an empty West State Street in Trenton on Sunday. Photo: Rich Hundley III.

A lone woman walked down West State Street in Trenton Sunday afternoon, carrying a table and pulling a cart, hoping to sell some Trump tchotchkes, but she had no customers. A man headed down the street a bit later displaying a sign that said “Go Home”, but there were no Trump supporters to antagonize. More than two dozen journalists milled around, waiting for protesters to show up and looking for someone to interview, but instead, they ended up talking among themselves as a cold wind blew and the streets around the New Jersey State House remained empty and quiet in the capital city.

State and local officials had braced for an armed march at the State House on the Sunday before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Several intersections in the city were barricaded. Shops near the State House were closed and banks were boarded up. The National Guard was deployed. But the groups that had called on people to march with guns at capitol buildings across the country had few takers in Trenton as a handful of people showed up and then turned around and left.

“It’s a big collective sigh of relief, We’re grateful for that.” Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said Sunday afternoon as he surveyed the empty streets and huddled with reporters. “There are more skateboarders out here than protesters,” he said.

Law enforcement will continue to have a strong presence at the State House through Jan. 20. State workers will work remotely until after the inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C. is over, and Gusciora said the number of staff members working at Trenton City Hal has been reduced until then as well.

“We’re going to be very leery of letting in visitors this week through the inauguration,” Gusciora said.

West State Street and other Trenton roads that were closed on Sunday will again be closed on Jan. 20.

Armed demonstrators showed up at other capitol buildings in a handful of states on Sunday, but the gatherings were uneventful. Some protests drew fewer than a dozen people.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy sent about 50 state troopers and 500 members of the New Jersey National Guard to Washington last week to protect the Capitol after the Jan. 6 riot. There is a strict lockdown in the area around the Capitol and much of downtown Washington. Federal authorities continued to make arrests Sunday related to the violent riot at the Capitol building.

In Trenton, officials are hoping that things remain quiet this week. “We’re grateful for law enforcement for really going the extra mile to make sure the State House was protected, and the streets of Trenton as well,” Gusciora said. “We’re ready for any contingency that does occur.”

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora is surrounded by a gaggle of journalists on Sunday. Photo: Rich Hundley III.
Photographers outnumber protesters and counter-protesters in Trenton on Sunday. Photo: Rich Hundley III.
A counter-protester came to West State Street to tell Trump supporters to go home. Photo: Rich Hundley III.
West State Street in Trenton on Sunday. Photo: Rich Hundley III.
A parking lot behind the State House on Sunday. Photo: Rich Hundley III.