Report by Paula Antolini, June 14, 2020, 3:45PM EDT
“Stay Home and Stay Safe” reads a sign on the lawn of the Bethel CJH Municipal Center, regarding the present quarantine in place, under Governor Ned Lamont’s executive orders, that First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker urged everyone to follow.
However, hundreds of protestors sat elbow to elbow on June 7, 2020, during Sunday’s “OCCUPY GREENWOOD, Black Lives Matter” gathering, not practicing social distancing, sitting in close proximity to one another, not following rules for maximum number of individuals allowed at a gathering, including First Selectman Knickerbocker in attendance, sitting in the tightly packed crowd. This is after he told residents it was NOT SAFE.
When asked, earlier, if he approved of the “OCCUPY GREENWOOD” event that was planned for Sunday, First Selectman Knickerbocker said, in a June 4th email at 6:29 p.m., “This is not a town-sanctioned event, and I have no details about it, other than what you shared above.” But as you can see in the photos, he attended the event on Sunday, breaking every rule he preached to citizens.
The sign on the municipal lawn might as well have read, “Do What I Say, Not What I Do,” as Knickerbocker also attended ANOTHER event he had previously cancelled for SAFETY reasons.
The earlier event, named the “Candlelight Vigil for Justice” in honor of George Floyd, was originally organized by First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker and CT State Rep. Raghib Allie Brennan (according to the invite published) and was to take place on Thursday, June 4, 2020, at 8:00 p.m. on the CJH Municipal Center lawn. The event was then cancelled by First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (or “postponed”) on June 3rd, because it was NOT SAFE.
However, Knickerbocker attended a defiant impromptu protest event by protestors anyway, held on the same evening of June 4th, in front of the Bethel Public Library. This event was created via online communication and other methods by individuals unhappy with Knickerbocker’s decision to cancel the earlier municipal lawn event. But Knickerbocker managed to attend this event too, even though he preached it is NOT SAFE.
“There is one reason and one reason only for my decision, and that is to maintain the safety of those who choose to attend,” said Knickerbocker in his letter to the community on June 3rd, “… we would likely see many, many more people attend this vigil than could possibly be safely accommodated on the lawn of town hall.” But Knickerbocker attended the defiant protest that took place on Greenwood Avenue on Thursday, June 4, 2020, anyway, despite his own words that it was NOT SAFE.
Regarding the COVID-19 threat and that event, Knickerbocker said, “There is already a great deal of concern on the part of our state and federal health officials over the real possibility of a dangerous spike in COVID-19 infections as a direct result of these rallies and gatherings. As an elected official, I cannot in good faith continue with the plan.” But when protestors held the event anyway on Greenwood Avenue on the evening of June 4th, Knickerbocker also attended the event, going against his own words and putting people at risk.“
In addition, the “Walk For The Change You Want To See” that was scheduled for Saturday, June 6, 2020, in Danbury, CT, was promoted by Bethel’s CT State Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan, after the “Candlelight Vigil for Justice” was cancelled by Knickerbocker. Allie-Brennan was very vocal in saying he did not agree with Knickerbocker’s decision.
“As part of that effort, I’m working with a group of young people who refuse to be deterred and are planning a similar event in Danbury. The “Walk For The Change You Want To See” event will take place this Saturday June 6th at 12pm at Roger’s Park in Danbury. I look forward to seeing you there,” Allie-Brennan said.
Although he was in attendance, Knickerbocker did not speak at the June 7th event, and we noticed that he seemed to not be acknowledged or spoken to at all.
In fact, Greenwood Avenue is a state road and therefore needs a permit to be blocked off for events. In the past, organizers of events such as the Bethel “SummerFest,” “WinterFest” and “Trick or Treat Street” (Halloween event) could not get the street closed for SAFETY, but the recent protest not only used the street, but police blocked off the roads for them. Bethel Advocate was told by a police official that there were no permits for Sunday’s march down Greenwood.
There is a weird double standard happen in in Bethel, full of confusing mixed messages.
Bethel First Selectman Knickerbocker went against his own words to the citizens of Bethel, and attends an event he cancelled for safety, and another event held in defiance of his words and against the governor’s orders?
Worst of all, citizens’ vote was denied during the recent budget process, because it was not “SAFE.”
Food continues to be handed out at the Bethel Public Schools three times a week, where cars drive up, but we could not vote in the same manner, according to Knickerbocker,because it was “not safe” and he was protecting the poll workers he said. What about the school employees handing out the lunch?
Food pick-up and delivery was allowed for restaurants, also liquor purchases, shopping in big box stores, but voting was deemed “not safe.”
In Knickerbocker’s June 8, 2020 “Community Update” he wrote:
- “Drive-in” religious ceremonies now have no attendance limits, as long as participants remain in their cars.
- The limit on the number of children allowed in child care facilities has been raised to 50.
- Current limit on indoor gatherings: 10
- Current limit on outdoor gatherings: 25, with prohibition on contact sports or use of any shared sports equipment (balls, gloves, frizbees, clubs, etc.)
- Indoor religious gatherings: 100, or 25% of space capacity, whichever is smaller.
- Outdoor religious gatherings: 150
Despite the above rules, we witnessed 300-500 individuals that were allowed gather in P. T. Barnum Square, march down Greenwood Avenue and hold a rally on the lawn of the CJH MunicipalCenter, all in a tightly packed crowd, without social distancing or following crowd limits as per Governor orders and Bethel First Selectman updates.
This has NOTHING to do with political parties, race or police, it has to do with basic rights for all, and enforcing the same rules for all, especially during a quarantine/pandemic. If you make exceptions for some, you need to make exceptions for all.
Freedom of speech via protest rallies, and being able to vote, is the American way, but double standards are not.
First Selectman Knickerbocker sat or stood in a crowd, applauding, during an event he originally deemed as “not safe” for all the residents of Bethel.
First Selectman Knickerbocker denied our vote, saying it was not safe, and that he was following governor’s orders exactly, then a few weeks later he attended protest rallies, NOT social distancing and NOT adhering to crowd limits, after he stressed a possible COVID-19 spike was threatened if people gathered in high numbers.
First Selectman Knickerbocker is NOT protecting us, is NOT giving us our inalienable rights, he shows favoritism, votes the opposite of how the majority of residents feel, and is certainly not following the “Stay Home and Stay Safe” protocol he preaches to citizens. “Do What I Say, Not What I Do,” is more like it.
Something is very wrong here. Maybe we need a another protest.
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