Toll hike protesters feel New Jersey’s jackboot

| 1/21/2008

Apparently, no one told the police in Middle Township, NJ, that freedom of speech is a constitutional right.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, police arrested two men who had leaflets and signs protesting Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to drastically increase tolls. The setting was the town’s high school where Corzine was scheduled to appear at a town meeting to make his case for raising tolls.

Before the governor arrived, some 10 toll increase opponents began distributing flyers and displaying signs that read “No toll hikes.” Among those were former Bogota, NJ, Mayor Steven Lonegan and Seth Grossman, an attorney.

Lonegan and Grossman told “Land Line Now” that when they got to the sidewalk near the school, they were confronted by a dozen or more police officers.

“I was surrounded by seven officers,” said Lonegan. “They told me the governor did not want me to hand out flyers.”

Lonegan said he was told it was a “private” meeting.

With more than a dozen years experience as a public official, Lonegan explained to the officers it was actually a “public” meeting, paid for by taxpayers. Lonegan told them it was his right to pass out flyers protesting the toll increases.

“They cuffed me and put me in the patrol car,” he said.

Grossman was also arrested. Both were detained for about an hour after being charged with trespassing.

A retired superior court judge who witnessed the arrests said it was “very scary.” Various media sources quoted him as saying it reminded him of movies he’d seen about Russia and Germany.

“My run-in with freedom of speech in New Jersey was a chilling, oppressive experience,” said Lonegan.

A spokesman for Gov. Corzine says he was unaware of the incidents.

– By Reed Black, staff writer