Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon joined a throng of nearly 500 people – some Muslims he has been friends with since childhood – for prayers and a unity walk organized by the Morris County Islamic Centers in memory of the March 15 murders of worshipping Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand.
Sheriff Gannon on Sunday, March 17, was the main law enforcement speaker at the event at Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton, his hometown, and he reassured the crowd that his office will always be ready to protect and defend people of all faiths against acts of terrorism.
Gul B. Khan, vice president of Jam-E. Masjid Islamic Center, said Sheriff Gannon immediately deployed tactical resources to protect all mosques in Morris County during Friday prayers after hearing about the New Zealand attacks. The sheriff also directed officers to conduct extra patrols around Morris County’s Jewish houses of worship and schools.
Members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), K-9 Unit and Bomb Squad, along with Boonton police, provided a significant police presence during Sunday’s prayers and remarks within the mosque and along the walk route from the mosque past Town Hall and back. The mood of the event was upbeat, with many embraces and handshakes and signs of solidarity like one marcher’s placard that read: “I (heart) my Muslim neighbors.”
“Sheriff Gannon is like a member of our family. He’s always there for us,” said Khan.
Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Imam Wesley Lebron, who welcomed the crowd as “brethren in humanity,” said Sheriff Gannon also assured him the mosque was protected. The sheriff issued a formal statement about the attacks:
The savagery inflicted on people praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, while they were engaged in private, peaceful acts of their religious faith only heightens the resolve of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to protect all houses of worship, schools and institutions from acts of terrorism.
No person – no matter the race, ethnicity or faith – should fear kneeling or bowing their head in prayer nor fear playing at school, dancing at a concert or walking on a sidewalk. Freedom to live without fear or as a target of hate is a desire we all share as people of the human race.
As the Morris County Sheriff, I join the Morris County Islamic Centers in standing up for peace and denouncing the unforgiveable hatred that led to the murders of 50 people and wounding of at least 20 others in New Zealand.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Morris County police chiefs and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office stand by and in front of all members of its religious communities. We are united with good people of all faiths and will continue to work relentlessly as warriors to protect the community from violence.
At Sunday’s event – where Boonton Police Chief David Mayhood, Montville Police Chief Andrew Caggiano and Rockaway Borough Police Chief Conrad Pepperman also pledged continued support for the Muslim community – Sheriff Gannon asked for a moment of silence. The sheriff’s remarks were preceded by a youth reading in Arabic from the Quran, followed by a second youth translating the recitation into English.
“A moment of silence for the people of New Zealand. A moment of silence for people of the Islamic faith. A moment of silence for all people of faith. We can’t let terrorism divert us from praying to who we want to pray to. As the sheriff, as our elected officials here, as police, we’re not going to allow that,” Sheriff Gannon said.
Gannon credited all law enforcement agencies in Morris County, particularly local police who know their communities, for being part of a blanket of protection against violent acts. Sheriff Gannon praised Mount Olive Police Chief Steve Beecher for deploying extra resources to protect the mosque within that municipality.
The sheriff reassured the crowd: “I just want you to know, you’re in good shape here in Morris County.”
The 317 houses of worship within Morris County’s boundaries specifically are contained in a program under which extra resources are deployed at holiday times, occasions of special religious observances, and when people of particular faiths are targeted for violence.
“This today is about love. This today is about peace. We’re not going to let New Zealand shape us. And I’m going to ensure that. And the county prosecutor is going to ensure that. And all the elected officials here are going to ensure that. So, you’re in a good place,” Sheriff Gannon said.
Other dignitaries at the event included U.S. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, Morris County Freeholders John Krickus and Doug Cabana, Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano and Boonton Mayor Matthew DiLauri.