Morristown police chief differs with Trump; students plan gun protest for March 24

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Tuesday’s Morristown council meeting was mostly a feel-good affair, filled with congratulations and ovations for promoted cops and firemen.

But the Valentine’s Day massacre at a Florida high school remained very much on the minds of the police chief, who had sharp words for President Trump, and a Mendham student who anticipates thousands at a Morristown gun control demonstration she is organizing for March 24, 2018.

Police Chief Pete Demnitz prefaced the swearing in of two officers with a defense of police in the wake of the murder of 17 students and faculty by a gunman in Parkland, FL.

Morristown Policeman Michael Doyle takes oath of office, with help from his wife and son, Feb. 27, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Policeman Michael Doyle takes oath of office, with help from his wife and son, Feb. 27, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Now policing is being questioned by the actions of one deputy sheriff in Broward County,” Demnitz said, referring to a Florida officer who failed to enter the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the Feb. 14 shootings.

President Trump has called the deputy sheriff a “coward” and suggested arming teachers because they “love their students.”

“I’d rather have somebody who loves their students and wants to protect their students than someone standing outside who doesn’t know anybody,” Trump said last week.

Demnitz bristled at such comments.

“Now there are people in this country, including the President of the United States, trying to say that my police officers, police officers around this county, around this country and around this state, care less than teachers,” the chief said.

“I defy anybody to say that they are less caring, that their families are less caring than any teacher. And I know the teachers in this town, and I know the cops in this town. They care,” said Demnitz.

Bella and Lisa Bhimani speak with Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz after town council meeting, Feb. 27, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bella and Lisa Bhimani speak with Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz after town council meeting, Feb. 27, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

He cited last fall’s mass shooting in Las Vegas and the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, as prior examples of police being maligned unfairly.

The chief’s remarks resonated with Bella Bhimani, a sophomore at Mendham High School. She is organizing the local version of The March for Our Lives, a student-driven series of gun reform marches across the nation next month.

“I was just so sad at first,” Bhimani said of the Parkland shootings. “But then I started to get angry that this keeps happening.  It’s happened so much more in America than anywhere else. No other country has to deal with this. Which is why I wanted to take action.”

Video: Mendham student organizes gun safety march in Morristown

 

The Morristown march will proceed at 11 am on March 24 from town hall to the Morristown Green and back. Students and teachers from across the region will speak; a Florida student has been invited, said Bhimani.

A crowd of between 2,000 and 5,000 people is likely, she predicted.

“We’re trying to put an end to gun violence in general, and we want Congress to finally start passing stricter gun laws to stop these shootings from happening,” said Bhimani, who favors tougher background checks and a ban on assault-type rifles like the one used in Florida.

Her school conducts periodic shooter drills. A few weeks ago there was confusion about whether one was real, “and that was kind of scary,” she said.

Morristown firefighters line council chamber for promotion ceremony, Feb. 28, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown firefighters line council chamber for promotion ceremony, Feb. 28, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Mayor Tim Dougherty lauded students’ efforts, which already may be making an impact.

“You’re seeing companies pulling ads from the NRA. People are waking up. This cannot be the norm in our country,” said Dougherty, a Democrat.

The march will be bipartisan, said Bhimani’s mom, former state Senate candidate Lisa Bhimani.

“It’s about student safety,” Lisa Bhimani said. “I think there are a lot of areas everyone can agree on. And if you poll Americans, Americans across the board are for gun safety.”

Mitchell Weiser is for it. The Drew University senior hails from a family of gun enthusiasts, about 40 minutes from Parkland, FL. An older brother got an AR-15 for Christmas, he said.

“It’s not comfortable” having an assault weapon in the house, said Weiser, at the council meeting with his communications class. He said he has seen AR-15s in action. “You can’t hear the bullet leave the barrel.”

Earlier generations were defined by World War II or the Cold War. 

“We grew up with school shootings and mass shootings,” Weiser said. “It’s disgusting.”

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