Large crowds and unruly behavior are hardly unheard of on the Jersey Shore in the summer.
But after a TikTok party last month drew thousands to Long Branch, resulting in public brawls and drunken punches, a public emergency and 16 arrests, some communities are cracking down, saying it will be a tough summer if unauthorized social media inspired events are allowed to continue.
Last week, the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach took to Facebook to attack ‘idiots’ who were virally promoting a beach party next weekend which he said threatened to wreak havoc in his borough of Ocean County. Coastal lawmakers have rushed to draft a bill calling for stiffer penalties for organizers of pop-up parties that spin out of control.
And Long Branch has turned to the courts, naming the promoters authorities say are behind the recent parties and asking a judge to order them to stop advertising another planned unlicensed event. June 18 or 19 in the city.
It came as civic leaders pushed back against criticism they were overreacting to parties, which drew mostly young and diverse crowds, many of whom arrived by train, authorities said.
“Yes, we should hold people accountable if they break the law,” said De Lacy Davis, a retired police officer who is the director of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, a nonprofit in East Orange. “But do we want the government to get ahead of people’s rights to assemble on the boardwalk? That is the question.”
Officials in several coastal towns insist race and class have nothing to do with their concerns over the holidays, which feature flyers promoting public drinking, marijuana use and even street boxing matches.
As tourist destinations, cities say they welcome visitors with open arms, but must ensure public safety is maintained and laws are obeyed.
“We are the most diverse and open community and we invite everyone here,” said Long Branch Director of Public Safety Domingos Saldida. “We appreciate people coming here.”
But Saldida said the city could not risk a repeat of the May 21 holiday, which was promoted on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram and for which there was no permit. It brought about 5,000 people to the upscale Pier Village center, shutting down businesses amid fights, petty vandalism and a heavy police response to stop revelers from getting even more out of hand.
The video captured beatings and people engaging in sex acts in public, and showed revelers with weapons such as knives, bats and truncheons, Saldida said.
“We get people from all over the state of New Jersey coming in and going wild for lack of a better word,” Saldida said. According to Long Branch’s lawsuit, many fought their way past badge checkers “to take control of the beaches and boardwalk” around Pier Village.
Turning to court Thursday, Long Branch estimated the party cost the city $24,000 in police overtime, not including the bill paid by other law enforcement agencies. The events could prove a ‘recipe for disaster’, the city wrote in legal documents, which ask a Superior Court judge to bar organizers from advertising, promoting or encouraging events. other events without a permit.
Judge Lisa Thornton did not rule and asked the city to file a writ on whether the request violates the organizers’ First Amendment rights. In its response on Friday, Long Branch argued that the injunction would pass constitutional scrutiny.
“Without court intervention, it is inevitable that these events will continue and that law-abiding residents will continue to be put at risk,” City Attorney Louis Rainone wrote.
NJ Advance Media attempted to contact the six alleged organizers, who the city also accuses of being behind the May 21 event and another pop-up party in June 2021 that led to four arrests. One of them denied being an organizer and said the journalists had contacted the wrong person. Others did not respond.
In the age of social media, such parties are not unique to New Jersey and the tourist destinations of Huntington Beach, Calf. in Daytona Beach, Florida attacked them. On the coast in recent years they have also been reported at Beach Haven, Howell and Point Pleasant Beach.
In a video online Monday decrying the pop-ups, Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra pointed to a flyer that asked revelers to bring their own booze and weed on June 18, and promised “dance battles “, a “twerking contest” and a “boxing match.”
Kanitra said he and other Jersey Shore mayors participated in a conference call with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration on May 24, but were unhappy with their assurances that the state was “monitoring” the situation. Kanitra said measures must be taken to prevent the parties from happening completely.
“By the time enough people arrive here and all gather where the authorities even recognize that a party is forming, it’s already too late,” Kanitra said. “It is too late for my city to be ransacked. It’s too late to stop the street fights from happening. It’s too late to stop the property damage from spreading through my neighborhood.
In a statement, the attorney general’s office said it takes the parties seriously and is working with county and local law enforcement to prepare for and respond to events.
“Our office is proactively exploring ways to prevent events from happening, and as soon as we become aware of a large gathering that may be disruptive, we are in contact with our county and municipal counterparts to ensure that they have the information and the logistics. support when they need it. wrote spokesperson Leland Moore.
In the meantime, some lawmakers are calling for more to be done.
On Wednesday, Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, introduced two bills; one that would allocate $2 million to create a Coastal Municipality Surveillance Unit within the New Jersey State Police that would scan social media platforms for “notices of unauthorized gatherings.” The other bill would provide $2 million for state police to purchase mobile watchtowers for use at mass gatherings.
Gopal said he is also drafting bills that toughen penalties for those found guilty of violence or destruction of public property at mass gatherings, and hold organizers liable for damages. In cases where the organizers were minors, their parents would be liable for damages, Gopal said.
Gopal acknowledged that the two bills he has introduced so far have no chance of passing before the holidays scheduled for next weekend, but for now it sends the message that the State does not play.
“People are always welcome at Long Branch, but you have to obey the law,” Gopal said. “We need people to act like adults.”
Tough laws have been tried in other states, including Florida, said JC Lore, a professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden and a former public defender. But it’s still unclear how successful those efforts will be, Lore said.
“The law needs to evolve to deal with the impact of the internet and social media and this is an example of that,” Lore said. “The law never provided 50 years ago for the ability to publish something and reach millions of people seconds later.”
Admittedly, the Shore has always faced the pressure of trying to attract the crowds and the dollars they bring, while tackling the inevitable rowdiness that occurs when visitors let their hair down and pass. a good moment.
The walks from Long Branch to Wildwood all thrive when tourists arrive with cash to spend. The streets of Asbury Park were packed this month for the annual Gay Pride Parade, and the annual Belmar Seafood Festival regularly draws 200,000 people.
But not everyone always feels welcome.
Davis, the former cop who now runs a nonprofit, said black people often feel there’s a double standard in effect: white people get a pass for their rowdy behavior, while Blacks are seen as a threat and bad for business, he said.
Bad behavior shouldn’t be tolerated, but the vast majority of revelers are peaceful, Davis said.
“It reminds me of a few years ago when we had Snooki and the show ‘Jersey Shore,’ he said. “That kind of behavior was OK, right?
Jason Williams, professor of justice studies at Montclair University, said that as a black child growing up in public housing in Passaic, he and others he knew felt their places on the shore were not welcoming. Williams said the acerbic rhetoric around pop-up parties shows that some places may not have changed much.
“It brings back the idea that these are exclusive spaces, you’re not wanted here and leave,” Williams said.
Kanitra, the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, a Republican, said it’s “insulting” to view the issue as racial.
“If we can’t as a society look at a flyer that advertises public street fights and tells people to bring your own booze and weed, and recognize that’s something that shouldn’t be happening , so that’s a big deal.” Kanitra said, adding, “No family, no matter where they come from, wants to take their kids through public street fights and weed smoke to get to my kiddie rides.”
John Moor, the Democratic mayor of Asbury Park, said it is public safety that is at the root of municipalities’ concerns. Late last month, Asbury Park issued a public warning about a pop-up party that ultimately never materialized.
Yet even preparing for it cost the city about $4,000 in overtime, a price that Moor said could prove intolerable if it became a regular expense. And he noted that already, a pop-up has also been announced next weekend for his community.
“If you have to do it every weekend?” Moor requested preparations. “How many weekends are there in the summer? »
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Riley Yates can be contacted at [email protected].
Richard Cowen can be reached at [email protected].
Vashti Harris can be reached at [email protected].
Journalist Ted Sherman contributed to this report.