Reopen Delaware to target Rehoboth Beach May 16

Storm the Beach planned as mass act of peaceful civil disobedience
May 7, 2020

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

A week after protesting in Wilmington, Reopen Delaware has announced its next target is Rehoboth Beach.

According to a May 7 post found on its website, Reopen Delaware has announced plans to “Storm the Beach” at noon, Saturday, May 16.

“We invite people to join us to take back our beaches for a fun day at the Reopened Rehoboth Beach. Bring your beach chairs, coolers and most important, your voices!” reads the post, which encourages cameras and phones to record the festivities to the nation and world.

“This will be a mass act of peaceful civil disobedience, and it’s time for all Delawareans to step up and be involved. We also call on all business owners to open their businesses, statewide. We will leave it to individual owners to decide which distancing measures and hygiene procedures they wish to enact on their PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

In a May 9 update to the announcement, Rich Bishop, a Reopen Delaware founder, said the event is happening rain or shine. He said he’s been told by the police department there will be an area around the Bandstand available for the protestors, but there will also be barriers preventing people from going onto the Boardwalk.

Bishop said he was told people will be written a $100 civil citation if the barrier is crossed. If a person chooses to pursue the action further, they could be arrested, he said.

Each person needs to decide how much they want to support the cause, said Bishop. This will not be the typical rah-rah protest with signs, he said.

This will be a showing of peaceful noncompliance, but also an event that shows Reopen Delaware means business, said Bishop.

“We will be there no matter what,” he said.

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said the police department will take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance, as well as compliance with local and state laws.

“I understand that we are in the midst of a period of frustration, and that our citizens and visitors want to express those frustrations,” said Kuhns, in an email May 11.

Rob Arlett, former Sussex County councilman, spoke at the Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine event that took place in Dover at the same time as the Reopen Delaware event in Wilmington. In an email May 7, he said he is uncertain if he’s attending, because of a schedule conflict, but he said he supports opening the beaches based on the ability to maintain social distancing recommendations. If need be, he said, open the beaches to only residents and property owners.

Arlett questioned why people can’t go to the beaches if they’re allowed to walk on sidewalks in beach towns, shop at Walmart, and go to grocery stores and liquor stores. In addition, he said, the health benefits that are attributed to being in the sun – breathing the salt air and swimming in the salt water – need to be considered as well.

“We citizens can follow suggested and reasonable guidelines,” said Arlett. “Those concerned citizens are not required to go to the beach and the individuals that are deemed most vulnerable by the CDC should indeed stay at home and continue to be safeguarded.”

Rehoboth Beach Police Department Lt. Jamie Riddle said the department is aware of the event. Meetings with the organization have been planned, and the police department will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of the community, he said in an email May 7.

Riddle said the details of the public safety plans, and in particular strategies for handling this event, are not for public release.

In May 2019, Rehoboth Beach amended a special events ordinance that differentiates between events and activities protected by the First Amendment.

For special events, the ordinance calls for an advance request of eight weeks, with a nonrefundable $50 processing fee and a $550 deposit that may, depending on the city services required, be returned. The ordinance also notes special events of significant size or scope may require an additional fee.

The ordinance allows the city manager to require, as a condition of issuing the permit, the applicant deposit $2,500 if the city manager concludes that the cost of the cleanup after the special event will exceed $2,500.

For activities involving free expression of First Amendment rights, which the ordinance calls “expressive activities,” an applicant is required to give the city manager 36 hours notice. There is no fee, but the applicant is responsible for removing its debris, litter and property at the conclusion of the activity. The city has the authority to clean up at the expense of the applicant.

As of May 7, Riddle said Reopen Delaware had not submitted an application, and city officials have not met with the group. When the meeting takes place, the city will request the group fill out an application, Riddle said.

“I have no reason or information that leads me to believe they will not when requested,” said Riddle.

Riddle could not be reached for additional comments May 11.

Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, attended the May 1 event in Dover. When contacted for comment about the event in Rehoboth, he said he had not heard of it, and would get more details before making a decision on whether he would attend.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from the Rehoboth Beach Police Department and Sen. Bryant Richardson. The story has also been updated to reflect that Reopen Delaware is not associated with the group that protested in Dover, May 1, Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine. When this story was originally posted, a photo of the Dover protest incorrectly appeared. 

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