BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The Montclair Republican Club has requested permission from NJ Transit to create a pro-Second Amendment mural across from a recently installed mural with an anti-gun violence message on the Chestnut Street trestle.
NJ Transit owns the property that since 1995 has been home to two murals, facing one another, both with anti-gun violence messages. In the Republican Club’s letter to NJ Transit last week, president John Van Wagner stated the agency has an “ethical and legal obligation to afford free expression, equal protection and access to opposing viewpoints.”
After garnering permission from NJ Transit last year, newly-graduated Montclair High School students May Li and Aneekah Uddin finished their anti-gun message mural in August. The mural depicts six student silhouettes — three with bullseyes, three carrying backpacks with flowers growing out of them, all with their arms raised above their heads, above the words “Never Again.” The students painted it in response to the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
They installed their piece over another mural, painted in 1997, which had served as a memorial to two young girls shot by their mother who then turned the gun on herself, said Uddin. The mural, 24 years old and chipped and flaking away, stated “No more guns,” “Ban guns” and “End violence.”
On the other side of Chestnut Street is another mural memorializing the 1995 post office shooting in Watchung Plaza that left four dead. Glenfield student David Kaplan painted that mural, featuring the words “We all hold it up together,” in honor of those victims and all those affected by gun violence. That’s the side the GOPs hope to repaint with a right-to-bear-arms message.
The girls had hoped to paint the other side as well, but said the approval process took so long that they couldn’t get to it before leaving for college at the end of this summer. They had hoped another Montclair High School student would take the reins and organize the creation of a mural on the other side, Li said. Li and Uddin were not available to comment on whether they had received official approval to do both sides of the trestle.
But now as the second mural remains faded and unpainted, the Montclair Republican Club sees an opportunity to create its own mural there with “an alternative viewpoint to that which has already been approved, displayed and promoted by the artists of the mural and by NJ Transit,” said Van Wagner.
The club wants “equal time” for another viewpoint, Van Wagner said. “Nobody wants tragedy or violence. But there are differences of opinion on this. The message will convey the rights enshrined in our constitution.”
Van Wagner added that the club already has an artist in mind and the mural would probably reflect a historical event.
An NJ Transit spokesperson said Monday the agency had not yet received the letter from the Montclair Republican Club.
“As with any other organization wishing to post a mural on NJ Transit property, the request will go through the application process,” said senior public information officer Kate Thompson.
With approval, NJ Transit allows in areas the agency deems as expressive areas, “for political, social or religious non-commercial public expression as protected under the Constitution.”
Van Wagner said the club will pursue its right to convey their message.
“To restrict state-owned facilities for use in promoting a single political viewpoint would violate federal and state constitutional protections against discrimination,” he said.