Protesters marched to call for affordable housing in New Jersey Friday night, amplifying a teenage activist’s calls for fair housing and racial justice that resulted in her getting a bill for $2,500 from the mayor for police overtime.
The Black Lives Matter protesters went from the city of Englewood to Englewood Cliffs demanding change. The demonstration comes after Emily Gil, a recent high school graduate, was sent a bill by Englewood Cliffs Mayor Mario Kranjac for organizing a small protest over the same topic.
“This mayor tried to bully an 18-year-old girl, coming out of high school,” said one protester.
The mayor did later rescind the bill, telling NBC New York it was mistakenly issued based on advice he received from the borough administrator. However, that official flatly denied Kranjac’s accusation, saying she drafted the letter sent to the teen specifically at the mayor’s request.
"I was shocked when I got the bill, and I felt disrespected because of the tone the mayor used and the fact that it wasn't a real bill at all," Gil said.
The billing controversy made headlines around the country, with even the mayor of neighboring Englewood – who was not involved whatsoever – getting death threats.
"It is a time of learning and growth. It's so important for us to get this right. What he did was so wrong, thank God he reversed it,” said Mayor Micheal Wildes, who joined in on the march Friday.
The NAACP and other protesters organized the re-do. Police escorted them and blocked off roads at no charge to organizers.
“Forty-five years, we have zero affordable housing here,” said a protester, as the group championed the message Gil had been trying to get across all along. “It wasn’t about the money, it was about intimidation.”
Gil couldn’t be at the protest personally, but was there in spirit.
"I was really happy to see that there was a lot of support from local government and that people showed up," Gil said.
One protester said Mayor Kranjac did their group a favor by going viral for the bill, saying it “brought more light to affordable and also low-income housing, so a blessing in disguise for all.”
Kranjac said he hopes to meet with the NAACP in the future to discuss his affordable housing plan.