ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — A New Jersey teenager who organized a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally to protest the lack of affordable housing received a bill from her city’s mayor, demanding nearly $2,500 to pay overtime costs for police.
Emily Gil, 18, of Englewood Cliffs, graduated from high school in June. Last month, she organized the protest, which drew between 30 and 40 people, NJ.com reported. Gil said there were no disturbances and the demonstrators picked up their own trash.
“I would say it went really well,” Gil told WCBS. “We stood there with our signs and people were honking and showing support.”
On July 29, Gil received a letter from Engelwood Cliffs Mayor Mario M. Kranjac.
“Please promptly forward your payment to the borough in the amount of $2,499.26 for the police overtime caused by your protest,” Kranjac wrote, according to NJ.com.
“I was shocked when I read that I had to pay to exercise my First Amendment right,” Gil told WCBS.
The letter provided to NJ Advance Media states that since Gil had refused to meet with officials ahead of the protest, the borough was left scrambling to provide security. However, Gil said she notified borough in June and met with Engelwood Cliffs Police Chief William Henkelman. to iron out logistics, WCBS reported.
Gil said borough officials asked to meet with her in person, but she declined due to concerns about the coronavirus, NJ.com reported. The teen offered to communicate via a Zoom meeting, but officials rejected that offer, she said.
“They kept pushing (an in-person meeting) and then they stopped responding to me,” Gil told NJ.com.
Paying for overtime apparently was not mentioned during the conversation, but after Gil received the bill from Kranjac, she wrote Henkelman to complain.
According to Gil, Henkelman wrote back and said he had notified borough officials about the “extensive preparation required and the additional staffing that was needed, including overtime expenses,” NJ.com reported.
Henkelman did not respond for a request for comment, the website reported.
Gil said Friday she emailed the mayor “about the legitimacy of the bill” more than two weeks ago and that he has not responded.
Kranjac told WCBS that the city “made sure that we fulfilled and satisfied our obligation to make sure that they can exercise their freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble.”
The mayor added that the borough has an ordinance that allows it to bill for any expenses incurred for police services during a private event. In other words, the bill Gil received was standard procedure, Kranjac told the television station.
“We always bill,” Kranjac told WCBS. “The bicycle race or running race or any other event, where our police are used, including utility work, people pay for the overtime.”
Gil told NJ.com that the cost will inevitably silence young people who do not have the means to pay for services.
“I feel like if that voice is taken away, it’s really a big loss for the community at large,” Gil told the website.
Kranjac told NJ Advance Media on Friday that the protesters’ “First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble were fully honored by the borough.”
“Ms. Gil is misinformed when she links our affordable housing issues with her protest, and she is wrong when she writes that I voted against affordable housing,” Kranjac told NJ.com. “Everyone is welcome in Englewood Cliffs.”
Kranjac said the money is due “sometime soon,” WCBS reported. If Gil cannot pay, the mayor said he would leave it up to the borough’s administrator to settle the issue.
Cox Media Group