NJWeedman: Trenton Police Shut Down Facebook Page

NJWeedman has apparently built himself a nonviolent grassroots army. His recent acts of protest have been backed up by voluntary groups of activists.  Since his business “NJWeedman’s Joint” has been shaky since the raid on April 27, NJWeedman needs help now more than ever.  Weedman’s support fund can be found at “FundedJustice.com”.  Weedman has been building up a storm of interviews and newspaper articles about his dramatic actions in order to gain attention for his upcoming trials.

On May 27, 2016, Weedman appeared in the Trentonian for providing jury nullification pamphlets to a group of activists, who distributed them outside Mercer County criminal court that same week. Weedman had a pile of the Fully Informed Jury Association pamphlets at his mother’s house, and provided the pamphlets for others to pass out to bring awareness to Weedman’s upcoming trial that he said would be “another William Penn trial.”   An attorney for the murder suspect on trial right now said the pamphlets “poisoned” the jury, prosecutors claimed the literature was “anti-prosecutor”, and a judge said the material sent a “chill up [his] spine.”  The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment.

Kirsten Tynan, Executive Director of FIJA, said she would provide help in anyway possible. Jim Babb handed out the pamphlets and was confronted by police at the courthouse and was asked to relocated. Legal Director of the NJ-ACLU, Ed Barocas, came out in support of the activists, saying it was “protected free speech activity.” Weedman dared the prosecutors to take him to court over the pamphlet action. “I dare them,” he said. “I welcome that. They would give me a huge podium. [Onofri] is gonna get to know me good. I think they took me as a simpleton, a fool.”  “It’s not anarchy,” Weedman said of the leaflets. “The basic premise of a jury is that they don’t have to rubberstamp everything that the government says. Juries can always use their own conscience.”  On June 13, “MarijuanaTimes.org” posted the blog on its website, “The Curious Case of NJ Weedman.”

Weedman’s supporters came out in numbers again on June 9, when numerous individuals posted upset comments over Weedman’s arrests on the Trenton Police Facebook Page, until the page was finally taken down that night. The negative comments presumably led to the scrubbing of the social media page.  The Trentonian article on June 10 said it learned from a “government accountability guru” that city departments social media pages are governed by state law to require the “retention of public records and prevents those records from being destroyed.”

This led Weedman and several other persons “to paper the city with public record requests regarding the social media page.”  Weedman was joined by Steven Wronko, a Spotswood activist who was escorted out of Helmetta Town Hall by police while filing a records request about animal abuses at the borough’s beleaguered animal shelter. John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, also came out in support of Weedman, saying in the Trentonian that he considered the Trenton police Facebook page being shut down as a form of “censorship” since it excluded unfavorable comments. “For example, you can’t tell people at a town meeting, ‘As long as we like your comments, you can have three minutes to speak,” Paff said. “It’s core First Amendment stuff.” “This is a group of supporters who have waged war on my behalf,” Weedman told the Trentonian on June 10. Weedman not only had the support of online followers, but the support of activists from other movements other than the cannabis movement.

Weedman issued numerous Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests through intermediaries regarding Trenton police and their Facebook page. He said the city did not comply with the OPRA because City Clerk Richard Kachmar reportedly sent a memo instructing the department to shut down the Facebook page. Kachmar claimed the memo was not public record, but refused to speak more about the case. Trenton Police spokesman Lt. Stephen Varn declined to say if the page removal was related to the issues of OPRA. “We have deactivated our Facebook page until such time as our social media policy can be reviewed and updated,” he said.

“Forchion’s plight in Trenton has drawn attention from activists around the state,” wrote the Trentonian.  This included Wronko, a former Marine with a “penchant for producing productive public trouble.” Wronko and his wife Collene are currently litigating a lawsuit that alleges former Helmetta Mayor Nancy Martin conspired with a Middlesex prosecutor and two municipal judges to influence the outcome of their criminal cases in New Brunswick municipal court. The couple claimed they were targeted by police due to their activism. Collene appealed one of her convictions when a municipal judge sentenced her to 10 days in jail for calling a cop a “douchebag” and not complying with orders to leave the Helmetta animal shelter. Wronko found his wife’s case to be similar to Weedman’s. Therefore Wronko sent numerous record requests to the city of Trenton over Weedman’s arrests and requested surveillance footage of the raid captured by a telephone pole camera near City Hall. Wronko even requested emails that were exchanged between city officials mentioning Weedman, but the city denied this or did not have responsive documents. The City required him to pay $157 for documents he asked to be scanned and sent by email. Wronko claimed public record laws allowed for municipalities to charge for copies but not scanned documents. Wronko aims to build a case against the city of Trenton and then sue. “They’re playing a crazy game over there,” he said. “I don’t like when government goes after the little guy. The same thing happened to me. Ed’s doing a legitimate business that they’re trying to wreck. They’re trying to throw him under the bus, trying to get some stuff to stick, trying to make him look like a kook. When it’s in their favor, they go right to the media. When it’s not in their favor, ‘no comment.’”

NJ.com also released an article on Weedman on June 10 titled: “Trenton police Facebook page taken down, officials mum on why.”  Wronko’s quote in the Trentonian about police stating ‘no comment’ was certainly true for NJ.com reporter on June 10. Officer Randall Hanson, who is in charge of the Facebook page, declined to make a comment. Multiple law enforcement sources claimed the Facebook page was ordered shut down by the Trenton City Clerk Richard Kachmar, who refused to comment, and referred questions to Michael Walker, the Trenton city spokesperson. Michael Walker also declined to comment.

The website “Photography Is Not A Crime” (PINAC) wrote a blog about the Facebook account on June 12, “New Jersey Police Department Shuts Down Facebook Page to Silence Supporters of NJWeedman.”  “PINAC”  wrote about the San Diego Sheriff’s Dept. deactivating its Facebook page in November 2014, after an activist filed a lawsuit accusing the Department of removing certain posts of his from the page, using screenshots to prove his comments were deleted. The activist ended up settling with the Department, receiving $20 for his personal expenses and about $23,000 in court costs. Honolulu Federal Court ordered the Honolulu Police Department to pay $31,000 to an activist who filed a lawsuit against the Department for removing unfavorable comments he posted on the webpage. Last week in Alabama the Wetumpka Police Department deleted their Facebook page after people wrote about their thoughts on an activist who Youtubed a video in front of the Police Department, resulting in police searching activist Bama Camera, being “illegally detained,” and having his camera seized. Once the Wetumpka Department page was taken down, critics of the police department redirected their cause to the “Wetumpka Herald”.

On June 16, Weedman hosted his one year anniversary for his Trenton Temple. That same day NJ.com released the article, “NJ Weedman reflects on a year of struggle and success.” The article went over Weedman’s limping business and his desire to keep the church open after the April 27 raid.”I was doing everything by the books,” Weedman said, but now his manager and chef bought part of the company to try and remain afloat. NJ.com at least focused on the importance of community building at “NJWeedman’s Joint,” commenting favorably of the local artwork on the walls and the lively music scene found inside. Rapper Triple Action told NJ.com that he was at Weedman’s everyday working with other artists and producing music. “You see these fights breaking out (in Trenton),” Triple Action said. But Weedman’s temple and restaurant are different. “Everybody is ‘one’ (here).”  Weedman understood the pain in the streets. “In this city every one of these kids knows someone who’s been killed or murdered,” he said. But he described his church as a safe haven. “Our biggest threat is the police,” Weedman said with a smile.

“As he spoke, sirens wailed past the closed temple door but Forchion didn’t flinch,” wrote NJ.com. Weedman told the reporter:”I thought I was going to go out of business two months ago.” He blamed racial discrimination for the harassment he faced at his church. “If a white guy were doing what I’m doing he’d be called ‘innovative’… ‘Ahead of the curve’,” he said.”But instead I’m thrown into the criminal (category),” he reported in disappointment. “The war on drugs in these communities – it’s a mirror,” Weedman said, believing the arrests of minor offenses in Trenton could be seen as a “microcosm for a larger national issue.” Weedman spoke about Trenton:”Cities like this are under siege by the police department.” Weedman quoted from the ACLU report that found blacks and Hispanics were 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites for smoking cannabis in four NJ cities. “(Marijuana laws) are the oldest lasting Jim Crow laws in America,” he reported, while eagerly awaiting his trial. “I’m not a quitter. I’m not quitting,” Weedman said. “I keep telling people the police will only win if they stop coming in.”

Epilogue

On August 19 the TPD Facebook returned online. NJ.com wrote about this on August 22, mentioning that NJWeedman had been “waging social media attacks” on Trenton police after his raid, which could have accounted for the closing down of the site back on June 9.

 

 

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