VERNON — With former President Trump's second impeachment trial underway, Vernon's governing body is taking what officials say is a necessary stand against "violent protest, insurrection, hate crimes and discrimination."
The resolution acknowledges Americans' right to peaceful protest and assembly, but states a number of peaceful demonstrations across the country have been exploited by violent extremists and spilled over into "looting, destruction of business and personal property, and loss of life, including the deliberate targeting of law enforcement officers."
Five people including a police officer died in last month's breach of the Capitol building by rioters who hoped to derail Congress' certification of President Joe Biden's election victory.
Trump had earlier urged an estimated crowd of 100,000 supporters to "fight like hell" and to "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard." Democrats and some Republicans charged his speech was an incitement to violence.
Vernon's resolution, however, doesn't mention Trump by name or assign blame for the riot.
Mayor Howard Burrell, who worked with the Council to draft the resolution, said the omission was intentional.
"I had several people contact me personally and by email including some who wanted us to do more," Burrell said. "But we wanted to write a resolution that was neither left nor right, red or blue, but one that was down the middle. We need some reasonable voices to break through and help unite people, and we wanted to be one of those voices."
Burrell said the resolution isn't meant to criticize the 59% of Vernon voters who supported Trump in the November presidential election.
"This was not meant to condemn or cast aspersions on anyone who voted for Trump, but probably if that attack hadn't happened, this resolution wouldn't have happened," he said.
"We talk about Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and the Jan. 6 attack was something so significant and was an attack on America. We thought at a time like this that we ought to be able to come together with a statement that every person of every political persuasion could support."
The resolution also mentioned a nationwide increase in violence and hate crimes and a troubled history of racism in America including slavery, lynch mobs and segregation.
Burrell, 76, grew up in Jim Crow-era Mississippi. In a town that's 96% white, he's Sussex County's only Black mayor. His election to countywide office 21 years ago also makes him the last Sussex County Democrat and only Black person to have done so.
Burrell was a keynote speaker at a number of Black Lives Matter rallies in Sussex County last summer following the death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers. While encouraging attendees to pursue change, Burrell also criticized the violence that followed racial justice rallies in some other parts of the country such as the weeks-long siege of parts of Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
At the time, Burrell also addressed a rally in support of the Vernon Police Department and said the negative behavior of other officers shouldn't be seen as a reflection on officers in Vernon.
Within Sussex County, Vernon has been in the vanguard of embracing other progressive causes.
Three years ago, Vernon was the first county municipality to pass a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month. Two years ago, the Vernon Township School District was one of a handful to test-pilot New Jersey's newly mandated LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy prior to its rollout in public schools across the state last year.
The township at the time also enacted an anti-hate resolution, following a series of retweets by the former Republican county chairman that disparaged Islam.
Burrell credited Council President Harry Shortway with shepherding the most recent resolution on to the council's agenda and helping to get it passed.
"People said they're not surprised I would make a statement like this and told me 'you're an African-American mayor, your whole point of view is about bringing people together,'" Burrell said. "But I don't want this to be a Howard Burrell resolution. I'd rather our whole town be seen as a leader in Sussex County in making a statement."