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Egg Harbor Township PAL prepares for youth camp amid pandemic, George Floyd's death

Building a strong, positive relationship between law enforcement and youth has always been important, but now that relationship is taking on greater importance.

“There is no single more important thing that a police department can do than create a positive relationship with the kids in our community,” said Hector Tavarez, executive director of the Egg Harbor Township Police Activities League. “The relationship grows and stays with kids forever.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, compounded with the unrest sparked by the police-custody killing of George Floyd, has strained the relationship between local police and their communities, particularly youth. Many law enforcement officials have canceled their summer youth camps, which aim to strengthen those relationships, due to the new coronavirus, with plans to restart next year. Or, they haven’t decided yet how they will move forward, even as the state allows day camps to resume.

Since Floyd’s death during his May 25 arrest in Minneapolis, thousands of residents, including a large number of youths, have participated in rallies and marches throughout South Jersey, some demanding reform to law enforcement and others peace and hope. Four officers have been charged in Floyd’s death.

Tavarez, who retired as a captain from the township’s Police Department after 25 years, said the pandemic has created levels of issues for youth in the community, especially when it comes to mental health and drug abuse.

When kids have too much free time over the summer or any time they’re out of school, juvenile crime, as well as alcohol and marijuana use, increases, and nine months later, typically, teen pregnancy goes up, he said.

A pandemic only adds to the issues, with officials mandating social distancing and previously enforced stay-at-home orders.

“You can probably make a prediction that we’re going to have these types of issues increase dramatically in the very near future,” Tavarez said. “There’s nothing worse for a child than boredom. They will find something else to do.”

Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy said youth day camps would be allowed to resume operations July 6 along with organized sports and child care centers, which all had been closed, canceled or allowed to open only with strict guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Especially for the countless kids who have been looking forward to playing baseball or softball or soccer or other sports, we are proud to take this step,” Murphy said after the announcement. “We want you to have an active summer with your friends, playing the sport you love, but at the same time, while protecting your health.”

Cumberland County Sheriff Robert A. Austino, who runs the county’s Police Youth Week, canceled the event this year weeks before Murphy’s announcement, saying officials “did not want to take any chances with the health of the youth,” noting they recruit through schools, which have been closed.

“I agree that Police Youth Week is integral to our community and police youth relations,” county Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said. “I commend the sheriff for ensuring that this program has remained free and available to so many youth for so many years. PYW remains a key tool to get youth excited about a career in law enforcement. For this reason, I know it would not be suspended unless there were good cause. I trust whatever decision the sheriff makes about this year because I know he puts safety of the community at the forefront of all of his decisions.”

Similarly, police in Ocean City canceled their camp.

“As one of the first local police agencies to hold a youth camp — 2020 would have been our 12th year — we certainly agree that the camps are a great way to build community/police relationships,” police Lt. Patrick Randles said. “However, the ripple effect of COVID-19 on staffing, scheduling and the unknown status of facilities used by the camp require us to remain canceled. We look forward to returning stronger than ever in August 2021.”

In Atlantic City, officials are still monitoring the pandemic before making a decision about their Junior Police Academy.

“JPA has been a tremendous success and we would love to have it, but the safety of the recruits, their families and our officers is paramount,” police Sgt. Kevin Fair said. “We are currently engaging our youth through Zoom with youth boxing, our National PAL mentorship program, and our Girl Scout troop is getting ready to begin piano lessons with a local music school.”

Tavarez is working to get the league’s youth camp ready ahead of next month’s opening.

They have four facilities throughout the township, with activities for kids that span go-carting, laser tag, nature trails, a farm for gardening and to interact with livestock and chickens, as well as ponds for fishing and kayaking, he said.

The league has served as essential child care during the pandemic, so it has stayed open, but while the camp in previous years has seen about 300 kids each day, Tavarez said he expects that number “to go down tremendously.”

“Our priority is still the safety of the kids,” Tavarez said. “We’re going to make a big effort to make sure they have a fun time.”

South Jersey offers more Juneteenth events this year, both online and in person

With Black Lives Matter protests going on nationwide for more than three weeks since the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Juneteenth is taking on added significance this year. And South Jersey is offering more events — both online and in person — to mark the day.

Juneteenth — June 19 — is the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. On that date in 1865, Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that slaves were now free.

The Stories of Atlantic City project, which started in 2018 and includes The Press of Atlantic City among its partners, will host its first Juneteenth event Thursday, a Virtual Community Story Circle during which participants will share stories about independence. The Zoom session is scheduled to run 6:30 to 8 p.m. with opening words by Kameika Murphy, assistant professor of Atlantic history at Stockton University.

Cape May's Tubman museum on track for 2020

CAPE MAY — Restoration is continuing at the Harriet Tubman Museum of Cape May, where future exhibits will celebrate the Underground Railroad leader and the role of abolitionists in the seaside resort.

“I’m hoping it will be an educational moment as well as a moment of unity,” said Noble, the part-time project manager for Stories of Atlantic City.

NAACP Atlantic City Branch hosts a Black Lives Matter car caravan demonstration by Atlantic City youth, titled "We Are Done Dying!," at noon Friday starting at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex, 1700 Marmora Ave.

The more celebratory side of Juneteenth can be experienced with face painting, music and food from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Oscar E. McClinton Waterfront Park on New Hampshire Avenue in Atlantic City.

The third annual Juneteenth Cookout, The Ubuntu Way, is for the people of the community to come together and celebrate freedom and unity, said Nefertiti Hathaway, founder of Ubuntu the Community, a nonprofit based in Atlantic City.

Marque Cherry, of Egg Harbor Township, has organized a book and snacks giveaway for Juneteenth from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Gainer's Flower Shop, 425 S. Main St., Pleasantville.

Stockton’s chapter of the NAACP has organized a Juneteenth March for Justice. A flyer for the event says to bring peace, water, masks, signs and a voice. The march starts at 1 p.m. Friday on the main Stockton campus in Galloway Township.

Murphy Writing at Stockton is also hosting a Juneteenth event.

Yusef Komunyakaa will do a reading at 7 p.m. Friday via Zoom. Komunyakaa is the first African American man to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. His books include “Taboo,” “Warhorses,” “The Emperor of Water Clocks,” “Neon Vernacular,” for which he received the 1994 Pulitzer, and many others.

Community members, Stockton students, alumni, faculty and staff can participate.

The Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May will sponsor a Walk for Social Justice at 3 p.m. Friday at Rotary Park, Lyle Lane between Decatur and Jackson streets.

At the same time as the walk, a virtual opening will be held of the new Harriet Tubman Museum at 632 Lafayette St.

“Museum organizers and special guests will address supporters of the museum in recognition of Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Harriet Tubman’s heroic abolitionist efforts and many other activists who have fought and continued to fight for social justice and equality,” said Cynthia Mullock, executive director of the museum.

For the past year, the plan was to have the Tubman museum open to the public on Juneteenth, but “we didn’t expect a pandemic,” Mullock said.

The museum is still being finished, but those who tune in to the virtual opening will see some of the exhibits and materials, Mullock said. It has been documented that Tubman was in Cape May during 1852, she said.

After organizing anti-police violence rallies earlier this month, the Cape May County NAACP decided to sponsor its first Juneteenth Festival in partnership with Middle Township from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Martin Luther King Center in Whitesboro, 207 W. Main St., Vice President Quanette Vasser-McNeal said.

The Juneteenth Festival will offer music, food, games and speakers.

The Cape May County NAACP has adopted the slogan “Enough is enough: See us, hear us, understand us,” Vasser-McNeal said.

T-shirts will be available at the event for sale with that saying on them.

Holding a virtual event this year is the Epoch Creation women’s group, which has been celebrating Juneteenth for 30 years, said Iola Brazelton, the group’s president.

The community is invited to visit the group’s Facebook page at noon Friday to listen to guest speakers including the Rev. Gary Melton, Pleasantville Council President Judy Ward and Brazelton. This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Vote.”

PHOTOS from Ocean City's Juneteenth celebration

Gov. Murphy backs Marty Small for Atlantic City mayor

ATLANTIC CITY — The state’s top Democrat is lending his support to the incumbent mayor in the upcoming primary.

Gov. Phil Murphy has endorsed Mayor Marty Small Sr. in the July 7 vote-by-mail election.

“Mayor Small has a progressive vision for Atlantic City,” Murphy said in a statement. “He has demonstrated real leadership during very difficult and challenging times, and he’s working very hard to make Atlantic City a better place to live, work and visit.”

Atlantic City remains under state control until 2021 as a result of the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act of 2016. Since taking office in 2018, Murphy’s administration has taken a more collaborative approach to working with city officials, including Small, who served as council president before becoming mayor in October.

“My administration has been committed to the revitalization of Atlantic City and to smart investments that benefit the community and support Atlantic City’s families,” the governor said. “Mayor Small is committed to improving the quality of life for residents, increasing targeted development throughout the city, and providing opportunity for local businesses and merchants.”

Small said he was “extremely grateful” for Murphy’s endorsement.

“It is important to recognize that our efforts, commitment and hard work to create a partnership between the city of Atlantic City and state of New Jersey is ongoing and must continue in order for Atlantic City to receive the essential resources that it needs to not only survive but to thrive,” the mayor said.

Murphy is the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements for Small. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, state Sen. Ronald Rice, former Mayor Lorenzo Langford, Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey (Small’s chief of staff), Council President George Tibbitt, 1st Ward Councilman Aaron Randolph, 3rd Ward Councilman Kaleem Shabazz and 4th Ward Councilman Md Hossain Morshed are among those who have announced their support of Small. The Atlantic County Democratic Committee awarded Small the party line on the ballot.

Small, Pamela-Thomas Fields and Jimmy Whitehead are seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.

The Atlantic City Democratic Committee has endorsed Thomas-Fields, as have Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex, U.S. Senate candidate Larry Hamm, Council Vice President Moisse Delgado, 2nd Ward Councilwoman LaToya Dunston and 5th Ward Councilman Muhammad Zia. The Stockton Federation of Teachers Local 2275, the Bangladesh Community of Atlantic City and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 have also announced their support of Thomas-Fields.

Republican Thomas Forkin is running unopposed for the GOP nomination and will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November.

The mayoral candidates are running for a one-year unexpired term because of former Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.’s resignation following a guilty plea in federal court last fall. A four-year term for mayor will be on the 2021 ballot.

This year’s primary election will be entirely vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GALLERY: Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small through the years

Hard Rock casino rolls out safety plan for reopening

ATLANTIC CITY — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino released health and safety protocols for reopening Wednesday, even as the city’s gambling parlors continue to wait for the green light to resume business.

Mandatory face masks and temperature checks for all guests and employees, an entire team dedicated to cleaning and disinfecting, increased air circulation, and a local partnership with AtlantiCare for contact tracing, training and health services are all part of the property’s “Safe + Sound” program.

Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, said the casino’s “top priority over the last several months was diligently developing new ‘Safe + Sound’ protocols ensuring a comfortable environment to stay, play and work.”

“Creating the ‘Safe + Sound’ protocols, implementing detailed training programs and carefully cleaning the property will provide the most thorough and responsible approach in Atlantic City, providing good, clean fun for all,” Lupo said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming back our loyal guests and team members for an exciting summer at the Jersey Shore.”

CRDA prepares to market Atlantic City post-coronavirus

ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved a $750,000 contract with a local advertising agency Tuesday to market the city as it begins to resume business in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos have been closed since March 16 by order of Gov. Phil Murphy to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Murphy has yet to announce a reopening date.

Resorts Casino Hotel released its own reopening plan June 5 with similar restrictions and protocols. Resorts also installed a bipolar ionization air filtration system and purchased ultraviolet lights to disinfect high-traffic areas.

Atlantic City casino operators had a deadline of June 8 to submit property-specific reopening plans to the state for review.

The state did not respond directly to questions about whether the plans had been reviewed or approved, when the required protocols for all Atlantic City casinos will be made public or whether the announced plans from Hard Rock and Resorts were satisfactory.

“The Division of Gaming Enforcement continues to engage with the casino industry to develop plans for the safe reopening of Atlantic City’s retail casino operations when authorized by the governor,” a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said via email. “These plans include protections for both casino employees and patrons.”

Points of entry at Hard Rock will be limited to allow the security team to conduct temperature screenings using thermal imaging. Those who display a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or greater will be escorted to a designated area for a secondary temporal temperature screening. Those who continue to generate a temperature readout of 100.4 degrees or greater will not be authorized entry to the property.

The casino will adhere to social distancing guidelines recommended by health professionals, and the property will have a yet-to-be-determined capacity limit. Plexiglas partitions will be installed at select table games and the sports book, in addition to the front desk, cashier cages and guest services. Every other slot machine seat and table game position must remain vacant, unless the guests are related or are together in a group.

Restaurant venues, including Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, Kuro, Il Mulino, Hard Rock Cafe, Youyu Noodle Bar, Sugar Factory, Flavor Tour and White House Subs will be open with social distancing requirements in place. Hard Rock Cafe and Sugar Factory will both offer outdoor dining options.

Upon the casino reopening, Hard Rock Atlantic City Beach Bar will be open daily.

Live shows, DAER nightclub and Fresh Harvest Buffet will remain closed until further notice.

Hard Rock has reopened casino hotel properties in Florida, but the protocols for Atlantic City are comparatively enhanced and reflective of the casino’s location in the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

“Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming have made a tremendous commitment to sanitary protocols and a safety-first mentality for both guests and team members,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International. “We are making sure our resorts are safe and sound so our guests and team members have peace of mind when they return.”

GALLERY: Hard Rock Atlantic City gift card distribution for employees

Attendees watch a documentary on Mary Jane Granger, who received the philanthropic leadership award from the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization during its 2019 celebration honoring local residents who contributed to the black community.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy gestures as he speaks about reopening the state to phase 2 during the coronavirus briefing in Trenton, N.J. Monday, June 15, 2020.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small presented a proclamation from the city to honor Gertrude Newsome who celebrated her 107th birthday at the Eastern Pines Convalescence home, in Atlantic City, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

From left: {span}Vincent Brotherton, Hector Tavarez and {span}Jim Galvin gathered with 111 police officers Saturday morning for Shop with a Cop, run by Egg harbor Township’s Police Athletic League.{/span}{/span}

Hard Rock Hotels & Casino Atlantic City unveiling live online slots, the first of its kind anywhere Monday Feb 10, 2020. Joe Lupo HR president of Hard Rock Hotels & Casino hold a press conference in partnership with Softweave L.td. announced that they are the first in the world to introduce the ground-breaking innovative technology of Live Slots slot machines private room at Hard Rock Atlantic City available for players to enjoy from the comfort of their home. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City