NEWARK, NJ — Police arrested five people during a protest at the MTV Video Music Awards in Newark on Monday evening, authorities said.
According to the Newark Department of Public Safety, several protesters tried to breach secure areas during the annual awards ceremony, which took place in New Jersey for the first time in its history.
Earlier in the day, the Newark Water Coalition – a group of local activists and residents who have been trying to raise awareness about the city’s ongoing lead water crisis – announced plans to have a rally during the award ceremony in support of “clean water for Newark.”
Organizers advised protesters to “remind them of our demands,” but not to argue with police, news media or other groups, even if provoked. Several people carried signs with slogans such as “Get The Lead Out” and “Clean Water For Newark Now.” (See videos below)
City officials have estimated that about 18,000 local homes may have private lead service lines, one of the suspected causes of Newark’s ongoing water contamination issues.
The city recently began handing out free bottled water for affected residents in the Pequannock service area after the U.S. EPA said home water filters – a key element of officials’ plan to fight the contamination – may not be working as expected.
See related article: Feds Say Use Bottled Water In Newark, Filters UnreliableSee related article: Essex County Helps Newark Nab $120M In Loans To Fix Water Crisis
Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said the arrestees were “out-of-towners,” and that police allowed them to gather in a specific area, “in support of their Constitutional rights.”
“Apparently, some were not satisfied with that arrangement,” Ambrose said.
“We had a few – and I mean a very few – who tried jumping police barricades,” Ambrose said. “When that happens, it becomes a public safety issue.”
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Aside from the five arrests, the night went well, Ambrose continued.
“The VMA set was beautiful and it spoke to Newark being a major league city,” he said.
Police previously said about 300 uniformed officers would be patrolling the event zone and surrounding areas, plus VMA event security. A “significant number” of plainclothes officers were expected to be in the crowd, as well as Newark SWAT teams and Emergency Services Units around the arena. A police helicopter was also expected to be deployed for the event, authorities said.
Prior to the award ceremony, police warned of a “blizzard” of traffic in the area. In addition, NJ Transit officials warned that riders may experience large crowds at New York Penn Station, Secaucus Junction and Newark Penn Station during the VMAs.
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See related article: MTV To Hold 2019 Video Music Awards In Newark, New JerseySee related article: MTV Awards Will Bring ‘Blizzard’ Of Traffic To Newark, Officials Say
‘OUR EXPECTATION IS YOU’LL HAVE OUR BACKS’
After Gov. Murphy said he didn’t plan to declare a state of emergency in Newark last week, the Newark Water Coalition sent him a scathing letter of rebuke.
See related article: No State Of Emergency For Newark Lead Water Crisis, Gov. Murphy Says
“It is our understanding that government at the local and state level is responsible for protecting and promoting public health and safety. It is also our understanding that clean water is a human right. But we do not have clean water for everyone in Newark. We have been facing this public health crisis for many years. The misinformation, mismanagement and indecent conduct by local officials has intensified this public health crisis. The residents of Newark are not at ease because our quality of life has been unfairly impacted. If clean water is a human right, it is not fair for us to stand in line like a herd of sheep, during high temperature weather ranging from 80 to 94 degrees for a less than adequate supply of water. Some of us have been turned away from receiving water without a clear explanation. Someone has to be held accountable. Otherwise, public trust and confidence in our government will corrode to the point of no return. There will be no corrosion control to reverse the public perception of a government that does not work for the people.
“Even though the severity of this public health crisis has been downplayed by others, we have been trying to get Congressman Donald Payne Jr. and Senator Cory Booker involved for some time. We believe officials are finally weighing in because of the current media attention. Our local officials. Mayor Ras Baraka and [city councilmembers] have ignored our voices for quite some time, too. We’ve been going to city council meetings to speak about this public health crisis, we’ve conducted teach-ins and community forums about the lead in our water, we’ve gone door to door to share information about the lead in our water, we’ve collaborated with Dr. Mona from Flint, Michigan and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we’ve tested our neighbors’ water for lead and we’ve distributed water filters and now were distributing bottled water. We are not just an advocacy group asking you to do something for nothing. We are Newark residents who have children, pay taxes and water bills. We don’t have the necessary resources to keep filling in for local officials’ failed strategic planning and botched implementations.
“We are willing to have honest and transparent public discussions with any elected official, including those who have not responded to us in the past. We will not accept empty promises and hallowed ideas. We expect solutions that must come with funding, timelines, and are socially sustainable or we don’t want to hear it. While Newark residents were voiceless and thrown under the table throughout this public health crisis. Assemblyman Jamel Holley stepped up to extend compassion and provided bottled water to Newark residents. Also, he gave us a voice with a proposed plan. We believe for you to declare a State of Emergency is promoting a legitimate purpose, which is our public health and safety. Newark residents need immediate relief. We need you to choose our public health over politics. Our expectation is that you will have our backs and not leave us hanging in there. Please declare a State of Emergency.”