The weather is getting warmer and with the welcome change in seasons comes the pitter-patter of kids feet in municipal parks. Normally, this is my favorite time of year. Nature is basically beckoning the kids to come outside and play. But what happens in Mahwah, when they do just that?
It was barely a year ago when the subject of Hasidic children in parks became such a contentious issue that the Township of Mahwah literally tried to ban them from coming. At the time, Chief Batelli noted that there were 35 calls about Hasidic people in the park the day before the ban was set to take effect. Due to the highly problematic nature of the ordinance, it caught the attention of the County Prosecutor (and current Attorney General) Gurbir Grewal as well as the State of NJ, which still has a pending lawsuit against the Township of Mahwah and its Town Council.
The Council should be aware of what is coming
Following the calls to the police department, councilman David May, who was re-elected this past November noted that “a lack of a response at a field being used by non-NJ residents could lead to additional issues with residents”.
In September, Mahwah’s attorney Brian Chewcaskie advised the council:
In light of the fact that the Division of Civil Rights is seeking any and all documents relating to Ordinances 1806 and 1812, it is my suggestion at this point in time that the Township does not introduce or adopt any ordinances until such time as the review by the Attorney General’s office is complete.”
Despite advice from the Mahwah Township attorney, Brian Chewcaskie that the Council should not pass any legislation during the pending litigation, the Council brought forward and passed Ordinance 1816, which amended section 9-1.4 of the code establishing 38 prohibitions in parks.
I wrote this (about ordinance 1816) just 7 days after Chewcaskie sent that letter to the council:
Legally, you can’t just pick and choose what to enforce or whom to enforce it against.
What will happen if a kid tosses a tennis ball to his dad? (violation of #25)
What will happen if a toddler digs up a rock (violation of #3) or his sister climbs a tree (violation of #6)?
What will happen if a teen rides a bike to the park and leans it against a tree? (violation of #14)
What will happen if MahwahStrong members try to sell t-shirts in Winters Park (again)? (violation of #30 and #34)
These are normal things that normal people do in parks. They generally harm no one. Will there be a zero-tolerance policy on all of them? Perhaps only certain ones?
Time will tell if section 9-1.4 will be applied neutrally.
The weather is starting to warm up and kids will be in Winters Park again soon. While the vast majority of Mahwah’s residents are wonderful neighbors, experience has shown that there are several that will call the police on (((certain))) kids if they see a violation, even one as silly as leaning a bike against a tree or playing unauthorized ball.
We saw this when a resident created a “neighborhood watch group” and brazenly explained that he was targeting Hasidic stores. But the police are subject to the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and the Constitutional protections of citizens.
If residents will be calling the police to report on these “illegal actions” taking place in the park by Hasidic children, what will be the response?
Will the police issue summonses? Will they do so to every kid that “abets ball playing” or just those for whom they are called over?
Does the council realize the Attorney General hasn’t dismissed the Federal Civil Rights action currently pending against them?
Mahwah officials should act now, before this becomes an issue.
(We have reached out to Chief Batelli and will post any comments he may have)