Police in New Jersey received cheers and applause from a large crowd of protestors when they declined to shut down the exuberant gathering or enforce a state-wide lockdown order on Monday. Hundreds of people were estimated to have gathered outside Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey in the early morning hours to give support to the gym owner who had chosen to open against the state orders to stay closed.
Gym members and local supporters waited for hours for the gym to open at 8:00. When the doors were unlocked for the first time in two months after being ordered to close amid the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the crowd erupted in cheers. Entry was limited to only members, a maximum of 44 at a time and strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines were put in place.
But, as gym co-owner Ian Smith said, it was time to get back to work, even if New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said otherwise.
"We're here, being civilly disobedient, being peaceful, operating our business as we should be able to," Smith said. "All small business is essential, and our constitutional rights are the most important thing that any American can uphold."
Law enforcement drones, police, and SWAT were present on the scene for hours as the crowd remained, cheering on Atilis and Smith. Supporters waved American flags and signs demanding an end to the state lockdown while chanting encouragement to Smith as they waited for inevitable law enforcement intervention.
Bellmawr police approached the roaring crowd late in the morning to finally give their decree. Representatives of the gym and supporters quieted the jeers to allow the officers to speak. When they finally did, protestors were stunned.
"We are and only were here for everybody's safety today," a Bellmawr police officer said. "We planned for the worst and hoped for the best, and it seems like that's what we have out here today." In terms of the violation of Murphy's order to stay home, the officer had just one message for the crowd.
"Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order," he said. "On that note, have a good day. Everybody be safe." The officers then departed the area, leaving the crowd of supporters to high-five and cheer.
A disturbing the peace summons was issued to the gym on Monday but no arrests were made. Smith has vowed to reopen his gym every day while following safe social distancing and cleanliness practices, no matter what citations or shut-down orders he might face. Smith also said he was a strong supporter of law enforcement and didn't intend to cause friction.
"We're ready for whatever consequences come our way, we're standing up for what we believe is right," Smith said. He and his business partner also disparaged the NJ guidelines that allowed for "big box" stores like Walmart to remain open while small, vulnerable business like theirs was forced to stay closed.
"We are all equal citizens under the law, the 14th Amendment is supposed to guarantee those rights and that's what we're standing up for."
Fox & Friends is banking on a live confrontation this morning between a New Jersey gym owner and the state police. pic.twitter.com/uVUsH0EbO4— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 18, 2020
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