(CBS NEWS) – A New Jersey teen thought she was only exercising her First Amendment right when she organized a rally in support of Black Lives Matter. Not long after, she received a bill for thousands of dollars in the mail from the mayor, CBS New York reports.
The mayor has since said he is rescinding it.
Emily Gil, who is 18, was inspired to hold a rally in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, this summer after watching thousands of Americans show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s an issue we care about. And we notice these issues in our own town, so we can do something about it,” Gil said.
She also wanted to highlight a lack of affordable housing.
Gil said she notified local officials in June about the protest and even met with the police chief to iron out logistics. The protest went off without a hitch on July 25 and lasted about 90 minutes.
A few days later, Gil said she received a letter from Mayor Mario Kranjac, billing her for about $2,500 worth of police overtime used during the protest.
“I was shocked when I read that I had to pay to exercise my First Amendment right,” said Gil. She thinks she was targeted for her take on affordable housing in the community.
The mayor said he is the first in decades to combat the housing issue and had no problem with the protest.
“And we made sure that we fulfilled and satisfied our obligation to make sure that they can exercise their freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble,” said Mayor Kranjac.
Kranjac said the borough has an ordinance in place that allows it to bill for any expenses incurred for police services at private events. The bill sent to Gil was standard protocol, he said.
“We always bill… the bicycle race or running race or any other event, where our police are used, including utility work, people pay for the overtime,” said the mayor.
He later said, however, that he is rescinding the bill, which he said was issued pursuant to advice he received from the Borough Administrator who he understands consulted the Borough Attorney.
“I was told that all private events requiring police overtime should be paid for by the organizers. It was never intended as a fine, but rather as a fee,” he said in a statement to Gil that was sent to CBS News.
“I have researched the issue further with my own counsel and I am hereby rescinding the bill, subject to our Council’s ratification of my action,” said Kranjac. “I always want to make certain that everyone’s Constitutional Rights are fully respected. We will have to adjust the Borough’s ordinances accordingly.”
He said he was glad Gil was able to express her rights to freedom of speech and assembly and wished her success in her college career.
“I continue to work on resolving the Borough’s affordable housing obligations and hope that this Council will adopt some form of the affordable housing plan that I introduced in 2018,” he added.