Does police presence make the difference?

Harassment at unprotected Milford women's march sparks fear, policed march in Port Jervis remained peaceful


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  • Marchers in Milford on Inauguration day (Photo by Linda Fields)



“I had no clue about the women’s march that happened. I wasn’t even advised of that.”
Milford Police Chief Jack DaSilva
"We were in close touch with the Milford Police Department, and had it been anything other than insults they would have been there immediately.”
Milford Mayor Sean Strub

BY ERIKA NORTON

— The Port Jervis women’s march on Jan. 20 was very peaceful, with no problems whatsoever, says Port Jervis Police Chief William Worden and others who were on the scene.

By contrast, participants at a smaller women’s march in Milford the day before were assailed by verbal assaults that left them shaken for days afterward.

The Port Jervis march included about 500 participants, with 10 police officers and four firefighters on the scene to make sure things stayed calm. They offered aid at intersection crossings, especially to children and elderly marchers, and were prepared to close a lane or some streets if the turnout was large enough.

There were no officers at silent march in Milford. About 70 in number, they walked on the sidewalks of Broad Street and Harford Street in the borough.

The Port Jervis marchers walked a mile-long “high visibility route,” Worden said, which included major arteries like Pike Street, Main Street, Front Street, and Fowler Street.

Worden said the organizers in Port Jervis emailed the police their planned route and asked whether to use the sidewalks or the streets with their assistance.

Police Chief Jack DaSilva, who confirmed there were no borough police at the march, said, “I had no clue about the women’s march that happened. I wasn’t even advised of that.”

But in an email with the Courier, Milford Mayor Sean Strub, who was among the marchers, said, “we were in close touch with the Milford Police Department, and had it been anything other than insults they would have been there immediately.”

Strub said he had given the chief a heads-up about the march, “so they were prepared if we needed them."

He said he has the chief "on speed dial" and would have let him know if they needed him, but added it did not seem necessary.

Strub told the Courier some people were honking in support.

But then, he said, “some are giving us the finger. One guy stopped in the middle of the intersection in his car, and, seat up, and screamed, ‘F*** you all, dirty liberals’ several times over, and then cars moved by calling, ‘Killary, Killary.’ It’s really nasty, surprisingly so.”

One Milford marcher, who wished to remain anonymous, said she and her husband moved to Pike County a year ago and have always been actively involved in Democratic committees wherever they've lived.

“We are not intimidated," she said. "but we are not fools.”

“We have never been accosted during a march the way we were in Milford on January 20,” she said. “We have never before felt afraid to express our opinions or put a bumper sticker on our car or a sign in our yard until we moved here, and the Trump phenomenon was in full swing.”

Complaints made to schoolThis woman, along with the organizer of the Milford march, said they and others witnessed a man, whom they identified as a Delaware Valley school bus driver, walk up to a woman marcher and yell a string of racial and gender slurs and pornographic obscenities. Three witnesses sent letters to the Delaware Valley Board of Education about the incident.

“I am shocked that such a hateful and offensive individual is interacting with children of the District,” one letter stated.

As of Tuesday, the writers had not received a response from the school district.

Delaware Valley Superintendent John Bell said the school bus driver in question does not work for DV.

“Thus, I have no comment nor involvement with the alleged issue that happened out in the community,” he said.

When asked who parents should call with complaints about school bus drivers, he said, “If they work for DV, call DV. If they work for Rohrer, call Rohrer.”

Calls to Rohrer Bus Company in Duncannon, Pa., to confirm whether they employed the driver were not returned by press time.

Pam Lutfy, school board president, directed any questions about the alleged incident to Bell, saying as an individual she could not answer any questions but could in the future.

“I realize this is going to be brought to the board meeting, it appears,” Lufty said. “Once there’s discussion, I’m more than willing to meet with or talk with you once everybody has a chance to discuss it.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Delaware Valley Administrative Offices.

So, did having police officers on the scene at the Port Jervis march help encourage peace?

“I think that whether or not we were there, this march would have been peaceful," Worden said. “The sole role of the police was to ensure that they had a venue to peacefully march and to convey their First Amendment rights. We didn't have any indications whatsoever that it wouldn’t be peaceful. These are our neighbors, these are community members, neighboring communities and our sole position was to protect their First Amendment rights and to provide them a safe environment for them to convey their message.”

Despite the verbal harassment in Milford, Strub noted that many Trump supporters in the community were “horrified at what others did that day.”

“The handful — fewer than a dozen — who yelled at us I don't think are reflective of the average Pike County Republican or Trump supporter,” Strub said. “Just as demonstrators in D.C. who committed property damage aren't reflective of the average Democrat or Clinton supporter.”

“I think it is important that people know what happened, including the ugliness,” he said, “but the more important development is the rise and scale of the resistance to what Trump represents.”

See related story, "'Abusive language and racist comments are never a way to bring people together'": http://bit.ly/2kut59h

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