An NJ student refused to leave die-in at a congressman’s office. So, police arrested him
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A high school student was arrested for refusing to leave a congressman’s office after participating in an anti-gun “die-in” protest.
Ben Schachter, a 17-year-old Summit High School senior refused to leave “in order to raise publicity” for gun safety, he said Thursday, days after his arrest in Rep. Leonard Lance’s Westfield office.
The protest on Tuesday coincided with a nationwide one held on the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“I made up my mind that I was willing to be arrested in order to raise publicity for the issue,” the senior said.
At least four students were allowed to enter the office between 4:30 and 5 p.m., and lay down or sit on the floor in protest.
“This was a nationwide protest that was initiated by David Hogg, one of the Parkland survivors, to have a national die-in, where students would go to their representative’s offices and simulate dying there as if they were victims of gun violence, to indicate the need for greater gun control measures,” said the teen. “That’s what I was doing.”
Office staffers asked the protesters to leave and told them if they did not leave by 6 p.m., the office would be locked for the night with a motion alarm activated.
The other students left the building, but Ben Schachter remained on the floor, “partly to signal that I wasn’t going to be intimidated,” he said.
Office staffers allowed his mother, Pam Schachter, who accompanied her son to the protest, to enter the building in an effort to coax her son out.
“I told him he had made his point and if he didn’t come out, he was going to suffer the consequences of being arrested,” she said. “He told me he understood that, and he was prepared to suffer those consequences in order to further the cause of gun safety, and make sure Congressman Lance understands how his constituents feel about keeping our children and our country safe from gun violence.”
The staffers at that point shut the office door.
Todd Mitchell, chief of staff in Lance’s Westfield office said the door was shut, but the teen could have left at any time by just simply turning the deadbolt on the door.
Ben Schachter said he was unaware that was the case.
After his mother failed to coax him out, Westfield police officers on the scene entered the office and warned the student that an arrest record could affect his future employment and college plans.
“I did indicate to them that I was not going to be leaving unless they arrested me,” he said. “Once they said I was under arrest, I did not resist.”
“The police treated both Ben and I with respect,” Pam Schachter said.
Pam Schachter had harsher words for Lance’s staff.
“Locking a 17-year-old in the congressman’s office seemed like an inappropriate response to me,” she said. “They could recognize this act of civil disobedience without signing a complaint against him.”
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But once the decision was made, she said, it was hypocritical of them to refuse to sign that complaint, which was eventually signed by the building landlord.
“After the police came in and put Ben in handcuffs, there was a debate between the office staff and the landlord,” she said. “The police were annoyed with them because everyone said they were not going to sign the complaint. The landlord finally said he would sign the complaint. The staff didn’t want that dirt on their hands.”
Schachter said he specifically wanted Lance to back passage of H.R. 4240, known as the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2017, which would “provide a responsible and consistent background check process.”
Lance also has a Clinton office in the 7th District, which includes portions of Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Union and Essex counties.
“I’m very proud of my son for putting his person on the line, taking a stand for what he believes in. I’m very proud of his commitment to his beliefs. We will support him through this.”
About 25 to 30, including adults, joined in the protest, most remaining outside and laying down on the sidewalk in solidarity with participating students nationwide.
“When I went inside, I just laid right down,” Ben Schachter, a member of his high school’s Young Democrats said.
Two adults were allowed to enter the office with the students, one later was identified as Diane Moxley, the Green Party congressional candidate running against Lance in the 2018 midterm election.
Moxley, according to Mitchell and others on the scene, was asked to leave the office for posing as a journalist and having fake press credentials.
“It was a little bit hostile, but nothing drastic,” Ben Schachter said. “The chief of staff had some things to say to Ms. Moxley, who had printed a press pass for herself, which is in my mind a questionable thing to do.”
Moxley said she had been asked by some protest participants to stream video of the event on social media.
Staff Writer William Westhoven: 973-917-9242; wwesthoven@Dailyrecord.com.
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