A Fourth of July protest against racial injustice in New Jersey ended following the arrest of seven demonstrators at the Atlantic City Expressway.
The protest began at 1 p.m. Saturday in front of Atlantic City's public safety building, the Atlantic City Police said in a news release. It was one of many demonstrations in South Jersey and around the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Demonstrators shut down traffic on Atlantic Avenue, the Albany Avenue bridge — where an officer with a bullhorn read a city ordinance barring blocking traffic on the bridge — and down Winchester Avenue to the end of the expressway, the Press of Atlantic City and NJ.com reported.
The protest was organized by the Black Men United Coalition and Steven Young, who serves on the city planning board and another civilian board on police-community relations. He promoted the protest earlier in the week on We Have Gospel, an FM radio station that also broadcasted to Facebook Live.
"Come with your masks, your voices and come in peace," Young said.
He said the Black Men United Coalition wanted to shut down the city to stop outside travelers coming who might unknowingly be carrying the coronavirus and could spread it to city residents.
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"If you want to come here and have a peaceful time, we've got to check you at the gate," Young said.
Mayor Marty Small defended the group's right to protest, but was critical of efforts to "shut down" the city, saying it would harm businesses that are hurting because of the coronavirus pandemic closures. Others were finally starting to take down plywood after early June peaceful protests that led to looting and property damage. Like Philadelphia and Trenton, Atlantic City had a curfew in place for several days last month.
The city was bustling Saturday, with people gathered on the beaches and heading to casinos, which are open with social distancing measures in place. Boardwalk amusement rides have reopened too.
Small said it was crucial for struggling businesses to have a successful holiday weekend.
"When you're talking about a town that is hanging on by a thread, some businesses if they don't have a good summer will be gone forever," Small said in a statement that he broadcast to Facebook Live a few days before the planned protests.
"I'm an African American man. It's sickening what happened to George Floyd. We've seen it play out in broad daylight, with video cameras and hopefully justice will prevail. ... [But] we're not going to tolerate someone trying to hijack our city, its residents, its visitors and its businesses, for the sake of protesting over George Floyd. When it's really about him and his organization."
Atlantic City police said the crowd entered the eastbound lanes of the expressway but dispersed after seven men, including Young, were arrested. Police said they were charged with obstructing a highway and refusal to obey a reasonable official request; three were also charged with resisting arrest. All were released on a summons with a future court date.
Small said he plans to remove Young from his seats on the two city boards. Young was appointed by former Mayor Frank Gilliam, who stepped down last year after pleading guilty in federal court to defrauding a youth basketball club.
NBC10's Steven Fisher contributed to this report.