Hoboken police detectives are investigating a bias incident after a member of the public sent a “disturbing” and racially offensive message to panelists at the Hoboken City Council meeting.
An unidentified individual calling themselves “iPhone 7” logged into the March 3 council meeting held on Zoom. Then during the meeting, at 8:21 p.m., he or she sent the N-word repeatedly to panelists privately, away from public view.
Ten messages were sent in the Zoom chat to 22 panelists of just the racial epithet.
The incident came to light because longtime resident and activist Patricia Waiters, an African American woman who has long advocated for more diversity on public boards, brought it to public attention, speaking passionately to the council during public comment.
Waiters was informed of the comments by at-Large Councilwoman Vanessa Falco, the first African American elected to the City Council.
“As I sat here offended, disturbed, and distracted I wondered what I should do,” Falco said. ”I took personal offense to it, and I was sharing that information with her.”
Waiters said she felt the comments were directed toward her even though she is not a panelist, who are typically city council members and city directors.
“I want to know do you feel my pain living in this black skin in Hoboken?” she said chastising the council for not stopping the meeting or addressing the comments.
Councilman Michael Russo explained that the council worked quickly “behind the scenes” to address the incident.
According to Council President Ruben Ramos, while the meeting continued and members of the public spoke, Council Vice President Jen Giattino disabled the chat, and the individual was removed from the meeting.
“Within about 20 minutes, we had a bias incident investigation already started, the reports almost complete, and we turned it over to detectives already,” said Police Chief Ken Ferrante who was also a panelist on the Zoom meeting.
In a statement on March 4, Ferrante said it’s believed the posts were aimed at both or one of the African American panelists due to the fact the comments could not be viewed on the Facebook Live feed.
“It’s been very difficult to sit in this meeting,” Falco sais. “I should not have to be subjected to that.”
She suggested that in the future the city disable the chat function at council meetings.
“Going forward let’s please try to figure out through technology what we need to do so that I and other council people do not have to experience the derogatory comments, the disrespectful comments or any other comments that the public have access to bring to us,” she said. “This has been a disturbing evening, but I am trying my best.”
The council may also consider requiring that those who wish to speak sign into Zoom using their full names.
Ramos and Ferrante said that the individual would be found.
“Ultimately it’s on that person and it’s on that person going to bed tonight, writing those messages, and it’s on their mind and their soul, and that person has to sleep with themselves tonight,” Ramos said. “We are going to find them.”
“We are looking at this matter as a Bias Incident Harassment case,” said Ferrante. “Our Investigations Bureau under Capt. Gino Jacobelli began working on this case immediately last night. The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office were both notified of the incident. Our detectives are going to do everything in their power to attempt to identify the suspect.”
All nine council members and Mayor Ravi Bhalla issued a joint statement condemning the posts the following day.
If anyone has any information regarding the posts, contact investigating Detective Luis Rodriguez at 201-420-5102 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.