Ramsey’s police chief said he's justified in charging the founder of a local protest group with disorderly conduct for blocking traffic during a recent downtown demonstration.
Nicholas Haas had already received two written warnings for blocking the roadway during other marches when he led members of the Ramsey Alliance for Social Equality (RASE) up East Main Street on Jan. 10 “without requisite approval,” Police Bryan Gurney said.
Haas "did not heed either the multiple written warnings…nor his own words stating he would notify the Ramsey Police beforehand on any events in the street,” Gurney said Friday.
Instead, he and the other RASE members “disrupted the flow of traffic and created a dangerous situation for vehicular traffic and the marchers,” the chief wrote in a letter to residents.
Haas called the summonses “a clear attempt to intimidate me and silence any person who attempts to hold Ramsey PD accountable for their misconduct,” which he said included singling out the only black member of the group that day.
“60 days in jail for peacefully marching for 10 minutes on one lane of Main Street. That is what Ramsey PD considers ‘justice’,” he wrote in a post earlier this week.
Haas and the other young members of the Ramsey Alliance for Social Equity have gathered every Sunday at the borough train station the past several months to advocate social change.
Their Jan. 10 gathering, they said, was an exercise of their First Amendment rights in direct response to the riot days earlier at the U.S. Capitol, which they considered a treasonous insurrection.
“As we have done at every Sunday protest, we gathered and held signs by the train tracks on Main Street,” the group wrote in a change.org petition seeking concessions from police and the borough.
“Due to the severity of the threat to our democracy posed by the fascist coup attempt four days earlier, we came to the decision that briefly (less than 10 minutes) marching on one side of Main Street was a pertinent form of protest,” the group added.
“We have done this a few times before, always peacefully and safely, and always without incident, often with a Ramsey PD escort,” the petition says.
“We marched on one lane of Main Street for 10 minutes before reaching our destination of Veterans Park,” Haas said.
There, he said, “we placed flowers to honor the sacrifice of Officer [Brian] Sicknick, and all the brave men and women who have fought to preserve our democracy.
“The march was peaceful and uplifting,” Haas added, “until Officer Brian Paul arrived and chased the only Black protestor present into Veterans Park.
“ ‘I want to see his ID. This has nothing to do with you,’ Officer Paul yelled at the other protesters, even though we all marched in the road together,” Haas contended “Officer Paul declined to look at white protesters’ ID’s when presented with them, choosing to harass only the protesters of color. This obvious case of racial profiling is ap[p]alling.”
Days later, Haas – a former Ramsey Ambulance Corps member -- received two summonses in connection with the event, RASE’s change.org petition says.
These “appear to be motivated by his perceived role in addressing the racial profiling that occurred on Sunday,” he wrote that afternoon in a social media post that became its boilerplate.
The petition demands that police drop the charges against Haas, that Mayor Deirdre Dillon condemn both the alleged racial profiling and Gurney’s defense of his officer, that the mayor and Gurney condemn the Jan. 6 “insurrection attempt” at the Capitol and that the chief publicly apologize both for the ID request and another officer’s failure to wear a protective mask, “endangering the public while addressing the protestors.”
The summonses “did not work” to stifle his opposition, Haas said in his own post. “I will still stand up for what is right, even if it means getting in some good trouble."
He urged supporters to attend a noon rally planned this Sunday at Borough Hall, just off Main Street, “to demand that my absurd charges be dropped and that Ramsey PD be held accountable.”
Gurney previously provided footage that he said showed the black protestor's back turned before he was asked for his ID, making it impossible to identify him by color.
He released a more detailed response on Friday.
Gurney said he contacted Haas a day after providing security for another demonstration by the group last Nov. 1.
The chief said that he advised Haas in an email that “there are rules, protocols and laws that pertain to marching in a public street. I hope in the future if you plan to march, you will follow the proper protocol and get approval."
According to Gurney, Haas replied by thanking the chief for his professional handling of the event and promised that “in the future, I will inform you beforehand when we plan to march in the street."
On Dec. 13, Haas “again entered the street during a protest,” the chief said, “this time not to march but rather [to] write a message in the roadway.”
An officer providing security that day asked Haas to move onto the sidewalk for safety reasons, Gurney said.
Again, he said, he sent Haas a written follow-up reminding him of borough ordinances and regulations. This time, he said, he added: “You must cease and desist from these activities or it will leave [me] no other alternative than legal action."
“Unfortunately, Mr. Haas did not heed either the multiple written warnings…nor his own words stating he would notify the Ramsey Police beforehand on any events in the street,” Gurney said Friday.
“Therefore, due to his actions on January 10th , Mr. Haas was issued a summons for two counts of disorderly conduct for organizing and marching up East Main Street,” he added.
“We acknowledge RASE's right to demonstrate and their freedom of speech and will work to protect such right,” Gurney added. “However, public safety is paramount and we have consistently warned Mr. Haas about taking these demonstrations into the public roadway.
“The Ramsey Police Department stays committed to its mission statement and core values and we assure you that every Ramsey police officer shares this same commitment to treat and serve ALL citizens fairly and with respect,” the chief said.
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