Governor Phil Murphy responded to criticism that he dove into protests over the weekend in defiance of his own executive order prohibiting large gatherings.
“Public health is important,” said the governor. “We’ve gone through hell and the last thing we want is to go to hell again.”
The protest events in Hillside and Westfield – two of 130 statewide – targeting police brutality in the aftermath of the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd, were the first two he said he’s attended since his surgery earlier this year.
“The challenge is social distancing,” said the governor, “not masks.”
He noted the difference between outdoor events like the one he attended and those that occur “indoors, people packed in together, sedantary in particular, those are still hard nuts to crack.”
He addressed the slaps, among them from Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26), who addressed a letter to Colonel Pat Callahan, super of the New Jersey State Police, to charge Murphy with violating his own order.
“I’ve only seen a couple of headlines,” Murphy said. “This may be one of the most profound moments in our history. The state of racism is alive and well and it’s before our very eyes. This is a profound, filled with gravity momentous occasion in our nation’s history.”
Were the protests peaceful?
Yes, he insisted, desite a picture of the governor packed into a march of socially invasive individuals.
“This is a moment I think is bigger than any of us right now,” Murphy said.
A reporter drilled down: Why doesn’t the executive order apply to this situation?
“I think I’ve already addressed this,” said Murphy. “this is up to local law enfocement in any case. In any other non-racism protest… they’ve been directed only at the organizers. I can’t imagine what it would look like if we said ‘ you have to ignore systematic racism as it relates to public safety.’ This is an infection point. This does feel differently. Please, God, it does. It’s up to us to make sure it stays different.”
Prodded by a reporter, Callahan weighed in on the letter from Webber concerning the simultaneously executive order issuing and defying governor. “I think the governor’s already addressed it it is a local law enforcement decision,” said the police colonel. “We’ve been striking a balance between public safety and public health.”
Regarding the police killing of an African American man in police custody released during his press briefing, the governor added:
“I’ve not seen the video. I’ve not spoken to the family. This is an independent process based on the bill that I signed.”