Councilman Requested FBI Probe Of Founders Of Facebook Group Opposing Catalpa Park

Called opponents a ‘potential hate speech and crime group'

8-11-15 Meeting29

Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad in July asked that the FBI be requested to interview two outspoken critics of Catalpa Park.

A Township Councilman who has charged that opposition to the proposed Catalpa Park is racially based requested in July that the FBI be asked to interview two outspoken park opponents “so that they will think twice before resorting to any violence.”

“At least they will know they are not operating under the radar,” Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said in the July 28, 2015 email to township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts, in which Prasad requested the FBI’s involvement.

Prasad framed his request by recounting two acts of violence against South Asians in other parts of the country: the July 27 shooting of a sign announcing a Hindu temple in South Carolina, and the two-year anniversary of a shooting in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

In his email, Prasad referred to the Tranquility Protection Alliance as a ‘potential hate speech and crime group mushrooming in Franklin.’

The two people Prasad wanted interviewed are Brian and Gina Ulrich of Middlebush. Brian Ulrich founded a Facebook page, the Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township, the stated mission of which is to oppose overdevelopment in Franklin.

Township police found no reason to refer the matter to the FBI, according to a statement from Roberts.

To read the relevant emails, click here.

Commenters on Ulrich’s Facebook page are overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed Catalpa Park, which is targeted for about 25 acres at South Middlebush and Old Vliet roads.

Prasad has since issued apologies of sorts over comments he made about the park’s opponents, but emails obtained by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate through an Open Public Records Act request targeted to his personal email accounts showed that the councilman in late July and early August was on the attack against the Facebook page’s followers.

In his email to Roberts, Prasad referred to the Tranquility Protection Alliance as a “potential hate speech and crime group mushrooming in Franklin.”

Prasad in the email noted that the Ulriches were also opposed to speakers being installed in Middlebush Park, and hinted that that opposition was also racially based.

The Ulrich’s “badgered the Council for six months opposing the park, mostly due to basketball and Pop Warner football played mostly by African Americans,” Prasad wrote. “Council public hearings had comments made by this group of potential hip hop and rap music being played in Middlebush Park.”

Prasad in the email noted that commenters on Ulrich’s Facebook page are opposed to plans to build cricket pitches in Catalpa Park, and to a proposal to build a Hindu temple on South Middlebush Road.

“What do these two have in common – Indians and South Asians,” Prasad wrote.

Prasad claimed that a black resident affiliated with Ulrich’s Facebook page asked that the proposed basketball courts in Catalpa Park be eliminated because “it will bring an undesirable element into the neighborhood.”

“They have Indians opposing me and AAs (African Americans) opposing AAs,” Prasad wrote. “All because of the scare tactics of the Ulrich’s. They will not rest till they get their way.”

Referring to the ceremonial ground breaking held in early July for the proposed temple on South Middlebush Road, Prasad said Ulrich’s Facebook group quickly posted negative comments about the temple after a press account of the event was published.

“Religious Freedom is what America was built upon,” Prasad wrote. “Now you have neo-Nazi racists attacking them. It already happened in Wisconsin at a Sikh Temple where a Skin Head killed many people worshipping.”

Prasad told the chief in his email that he is “concerned for my fellow South Asian residents of Franklin Township.”

In his statement, Roberts said that police looked into the issue after receiving the email from Prasad.

“Our officers monitor social media feeds as well as bulletins that we receive from the (New Jersey State Police) Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (ROIC) on a daily basis,” Roberts wrote. “After utilizing our resources at the local level, it was determined that there was no specific, credible threat to any segment of the populace of Franklin Township.”

“We work very closely with our partners on the County, State and Federal level to ensure the safety and security of all of the residents of Franklin Township,” Roberts wrote.

The Ulriches said they were contemplating bringing the matter to an attorney.

“This is simply an attempt to stifle my free speech by intimidation,” Brian Ulrich said. Prasad is “trying to use his authority to intimidate us, to stifle our free speech. This requires a civil rights attorney.”

“As a human being, I don’t know how he can make a personal attack against another person and sleep at night,” Gina Ulrich said.

The councilman’s request to the chief came one day after Prasad’s comments about the TPA propelled the township’s Human Relations Commission to decide to write a statement condemning the “racially insensitive language” used by some of the page’s commenters.

And on July 29, 2015, in an email to his fellow Democratic council members and Democratic Party leadership, Prasad wrote, “When you oppose a Hindu Temple and Cricket in Catalpa Park, it becomes racial, as the common denominator is Indians.”

Prasad was roundly criticized at the Aug. 11 Township Council meeting, which he expected. In an Aug. 7 email to township manager Robert Vornlocker referring to the upcoming meeting, Prasad wrote, “I expect the Catalpa opponents and Brian Ulrich to be there in full force. Please make sure we have enough police there to keep law and order.”

Prasad’s insistence that he did nothing wrong lasted until Aug. 20. After initially declaring that he owed no one an apology, Prasad on that day apologized to his fellow council members for what he called “inappropriate comments” he “may have” made about Catalpa Park opponents.

And at the Aug. 24 meeting of the Human Relations Commission, Prasad said he apologized if his role in the incident “was in any way inflammatory.”

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