The arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. the other day reminded me of the time a few years back when I was arrested and taken to the police station. Unlike Professor Gates, I was charged, had a trial, and was convicted.
Of course, I'm a white man, so racism wasn't in the picture. We had been involved in a decade-long fight with a prominent monastery and boys' school that wanted to build a monstrous retirement community next to the Jockey Hollow National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey. But they needed the okay of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and approval from my local planning board and municipal government.
My ex-wife made a number of signs for one meeting, which aroused the ire of the board. During the meeting, a protester held a sign up and was ordered to put it down. I started mouthing off, and the chair instructed the attendant policeman to remove me from the room. Handcuffed, I stumbled to the ground -- raising the legal question: "Was he pushed or did he fall?"
I was charged with a number of misdemeanors and, believe it or not, went to trial in a neighboring municipality (to avoid the possible bias of my Township's court -- although the new judge didn't like me any better). I was convicted of two infractions -- one was disrupting a public meeting -- and received a substantial fine.
Holding a psychology license and being a lawyer I was a little tense about explaining myself. But no one seemed that upset -- plus since then I've walked the line. I've thought about having my record expunged, but I still haven't gotten around to it. So I guess I'll go to my grave as a convicted miscreant.
And, oh -- my wife divorced me. Didn't want to be associated with the criminal element.
Years down the pike, the NJDEP disapproved the project. Moreover, by that time, the viability of a massive, upscale senior complex had become questionable -- as had even building McMansions as permitted by the existing zoning.
And, so, on July 1 of this year, St. Mary's Abbey and Delbarton School deeded 188 acres of prime real estate to The Trust for Public Land for a cool $14 mil. I attended the ceremony (there's a picture of me with Abbot Giles on my Facebook). A herd of dignitaries were there, and Tony Cicatiello -- a connected Jersey PR guy -- emceed the event (how many monasteries have PR firms?).
Tony introduced the big names around the room, then described the long struggle over the land, saying -- "Although there was community opposition, the debate was always civil with people on both sides displaying respect and decorum." Tony paused, "Except sometimes for Stanton."