Lakewood mayor addresses concerns about social distancing violations, anti-Semitism

Earlier this month Gov. Phil Murphy issued Executive Order 107, which bans public gatherings and urges all New Jerseyans to stay inside their homes in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Since that order was issued, police departments around the state have issued summonses to people in towns who are violating that order. According to the New Jersey State Police, violations have been happening all around the state, but Lakewood, in particular, has been the focus of scrutiny.
Lakewood police have responded to several instances of public gathering in the town, including several weddings. Lakewood has a large Orthodox Jewish population and there are some who fear that the focus on Lakewood is rooted in discrimination.
Murphy has gone on record to state that people should not use the virus pandemic as an excuse to perpetuate cultural and religious stereotypes.
“The overwhelming number of folks in Lakewood and Newark and other places have been in compliance,” Murphy said. This is no time to turn on each other. Stereotyping and vilifying is utterly, totally unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. At the same time, we expect 100% compliance.
News 12 New Jersey’s Eric Landskroner spoke to Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles about the issues in the town and why it seems so many in Lakewood are ignoring the order.
“I would I could give you a good explanation for it. All I can say is it is completely unacceptable. The entire Orthodox community has come out as a whole and condemned these gatherings. They’ve told the community to stop,” Coles said.
Coles said that every synagogue, school and public gathering place has been shut down in Lakewood.
“As a united front with the secular leadership in town, we have been trying to convince everyone…one person can infect 100 people and we’re not tolerating it at all,” Coles says.
Lakewood police have been out issuing citations and summonses to violators. Coles said that police are getting calls from neighbors.
“Any summons that is being issued at one of these events is approved by the [Ocean County] Prosecutor’s Office. When officers go on site, they check with the prosecutor and see what they can issue,” said Coles.
The mayor says that initially only the homeowners hosting the gatherings were fined.
“Then we decided anyone who is there is going to be fined. Lately, if there are children there, they’re going to face child endangerment and that’s no laughing matter. It’s not just a matter of sending a check into the court to pay the fine,” Coles said.
But is the negative attention and press that Lakewood receives fair or warranted?
“I’ve said all along, in a town of 110,000, we may have had 200 people in the last few weeks who’ve acted improperly. That’s 1/10th of 1% of the population,” Coles said. “I think finally we may be getting through. Today we were talking about increasing the fines to $15,000 for assembly…common sense and common decency should tell people ‘Stop.’ No parties, no weddings, no gathering is worth putting someone else’s life at risk.”
But Coles also said that Lakewood has been the target of discrimination and bigotry for as long as he has been mayor.
“But it’s really increased dramatically the past couple of weeks. And again, the entire community is being marred by the actions of just a few,” Coles said.