The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has condemned a New Jersey High School for honoring police, the military and firefighters with a rally before a high school football game on Friday. The event took place before the Middletown High School South and Toms River High School game, which was one of the most highly awaited match-ups of the season; the schools are ranked number one and two in the state.
The pre-game rally, named “Salute to the USA”, included over 100 uniformed personnel from law enforcement agencies and military units across the state. It was organized jointly by Middletown School District and Middletown Police Department. “Salute to the USA” also incorporated a flyover by the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit, Middletown mounted and K-9 units. The assembly also celebrated an officer from Linden, New Jersey who was injured in a shootout with Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who is accused of planting three explosive devices across the greater New York City metro area.
The organizer of the event, Middletown Police Deputy Chief Stephen Dollinger, told the Asbury Park Press that the rally was supposed to be a peaceful response to the highly publicized actions of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has refused to stand for the national anthem before games to protest police treatment of African Americans. His actions have prompted a spate of similar protests by other professional athletes.
ACLU of New Jersey organizer, Jasmine Crenshaw, told NJ.com that the demonstration sent the “frightening message” that police will not tolerate people expressing their views. Crenshaw alleged that the police event created “an atmosphere that suppresses political protest.”
Additionally, the ACLU sent a letter to school officials prior to the event in conjunction with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the NAACP. The letter stated that the pro-police event before the game was “a disservice to the students and players” because it was being used to send a political message.
The letter goes on to cite the First Amendment, asserting that “no student – including football players – can be required to participate in the event or stand for the national anthem.”
Dollinger countered by insisting that he had no objection to people who want to “stand up for social justice,” but he qualified this by saying: “It’s another thing not to stand up for the national anthem.”