By MADDY VITALE
Looting and violence erupted in some cities, including Atlantic City over the last week when people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd, whose last moments were on the ground, on his stomach as a police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck.
Ocean City officials were on high alert to ensure that people and property remained safe during what turned out to be a peaceful expression of marchers Tuesday. People of all ages, color, and gender, took a solemn and firm stand at the rally that took them from the Somers Point side of the Route 52 Causeway to the Ocean City Police Department headquarters.
And for the day or two before Tuesday, when the community learned of a potential protest, businesses began to board up their storefronts for fear of looting and vandalism.
City officials put together a game plan for all possible scenarios and also a way to cordon off areas, make sure there was ample police presence on the ground and via car and motorcycle, and also direct and divert traffic.
Not only was the afternoon rally peaceful, but nightfall did not change the atmosphere.
The marchers came in peacefully and left the same way, officials noted Thursday.
“The Ocean City Police Department did an excellent job in being prepared to keep everybody safe — both the marchers and the community,” noted Mayor Jay Gillian. “The city and the department certainly respect the right of American citizens to peacefully protest, and that’s exactly what happened.”
However, he emphasized that people had their fears after seeing how some protests across the country turned dangerous.
“Because social media posts and forums had stoked a good bit of concern among the community, communication became an absolute necessity,” he said.
Gillian said the communication and organization between he and Police Chief Jay Prettyman helped keep everything running smoothly.
He said the two of the them, “worked together to provide regular updates letting people know about preparations and about how the event was unfolding.”
And it appeared that the police welcomed the peaceful marchers at the police department.
Sgt. Tyrone Rolls and Lt. Pat Randles embraced and shook hands with some of those who spoke out, as the protesters assembled in front of police headquarters.
Chief Prettyman said he was “extremely pleased with our department’s planning for and handling of the event on Tuesday.”
“The Ocean City Police Department has deep-rooted values based on a foundation of partnerships we have built with our community members and our local businesses,” he said. “It was only through these partnerships, some of which are decades old, that we were able to properly assess the needs of our community, as well as the needs for the public demonstration. Due to this, we were able to effectively prepare a safe venue for a demonstration that had such a profound effect on many.”
The chief remarked about Rolls and Randles.
“Two of our officers, Lt. Patrick Randles and Sgt. Tyrone Rolls, were assigned to this event, but were so moved by what they saw that they decided to address the group. Their words were heard, and their emotions were observed,” he said. “It is not often that you see police officers in such a human manner.”
He continued, “I am so proud that these officers were brave enough to share their very personal viewpoints with the group,” Prettyman said. “Their comments certainly represent themselves, but they also represent everything the Ocean City Police Department stands for. For that, I thank each of them.”
The chief also sent a message to those who participated in the protest.
“Your words have not gone unheard, and your signs have been read, but most importantly, your behavior was appreciated,” Prettyman emphasized. “Each of you contributed to an event that remained focused on the issue at hand and allowed for a very moving presentation as well as exchange of words that will forever have an impact.”
Caitlin Quirk, vice president of the Downtown Merchants Association, chose not to board up her store, Bowfish Kids, which is located on Asbury Avenue. Instead, she put inspirational messages in her window.
Quirk was a part of the rally and said she was moved by the protest, the way officials handled it and also stressed that there was no damage that she had heard of at downtown of Boardwalk businesses.
“The city and the protesters came together, and I could not be prouder with how the OCPD handled the crowds. I was a part of the walk and the way that the police closed streets and directed the march to end in front of the police station was perfect,” Quirk said. “The downtown and boardwalk were left untouched and the protest truly had a profound positive impact.”
Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton remarked about how the protests were handled at events from the Wildwoods up to Ocean City.
“It has been very heartening to see local police departments working with protestors to have important conversations, share prayers, and make connections,” Thornton said. “The photos and stories coming from these demonstrations give me hope that we all can work towards a better tomorrow.”