Reopen Delaware group will gather at bandstand

A group called Reopen Delaware is planning to “Storm the Beach!” Saturday, May 16, in violation of the governor’s emergency order.

The “mass act of peaceful civil disobedience,” as it’s described on the Reopen Delaware website, is set for noon at the Rehoboth Beach bandstand.

Reopen Delaware’s invites the public to “take back our beaches.” Attendees are encouraged to bring beach chairs and coolers and to record the rally and share it.

The website also calls upon business owners statewide to reopen using whatever “distancing measures and hygiene procedures” they see fit to be used on their property.

The group is non-partisan and “not interested in leading anything.”

“Our mission is to create a network of citizens dedicated to bringing our state together. There are multiple local grass roots groups involved and if your event supports our cause, we will assist with advertising, planning, photography, etc. as a team,” the website states.

Richard Bishop, 42, of Wilmington, is an administrator of Reopen Delaware, along with Jeremy Lin. According to Bishop, Jessica Rosser is the founder. They group has held or taken part in four rallies so far – two in Dover, one each in Wilmington and Georgetown.

Bishop said he intends to file paperwork to make Reopen Delaware a nonprofit organization.

“First and foremost I want to say, right away, we do believe that the virus is real. There are definitely people dying and getting sick, but it’s not a death sentence for everybody,” Bishop said.

Bishop said that many business owners and several farmers have reached out to him, wondering how they will pay their bills. Bishop believes that the governor’s restrictions are unfair to them. He pointed out that the restrictions do not remove all the risks associated with the coronavirus.

“There are risks in going to the grocery store. If you handle products at the grocery store and … put them back on the shelf, you’re potentially transmitting disease,” he said.
“But we don’t think that’s a justification for keeping anything closed. We’ve got to get back to business in this state.”

Anyone at the May 16 rally could potentially violate the emergency order in at least two ways. The beaches are closed except for exercise and dog-walking, and gatherings of 10 people or more are not allowed.

Chris Rowe is the former New Castle County GOP Chairman who resigned earlier this year after using the word “faggots” in a Facebook post. On May 8, he met with the Rehoboth Beach Police Department as a member of Reopen Delaware.

“He made some of our plans known to them and they laid out how security will go and all that,” Bishop said. “My understanding of it … is if people cross the [beach] barrier they will be issued a warning and then a civil citation for $100. I was told state and Capitol police will be there.”

Bishop said that he was told by police that the governor’s order relating to gatherings of 10 people or more is “unenforceable, especially given the right to free speech.” He doesn’t anticipate citations or arrests due to that.

After speaking with Rowe, Rehoboth Beach Police Department Lieutenant Jamie Riddle responded to a request for comment.

“The Rehoboth Beach Police Department understands that we are in the midst of period of frustration and that our citizens and visitors want to express those frustrations. One of the primary missions of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department is to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America to include the right of its citizens to exercise free speech,” he wrote.

“We will take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance, as well as compliance with local and state laws. Our mission is to ensure that we provide participants a safe, orderly platform from which they can be heard. We ask that those who plan to attend the event take advantage of their right to speak in an orderly manner compliant with local and state laws. We are appreciative of the professionalism of the organizers of Reopen Delaware and their willingness to coordinate this event with our agency to work towards our shared goal of a peaceful and safe event.”

Bishop said that the governor’s June 1 target for beginning to reopen the economy isn’t enough.

“He’s been constantly moving the goalpost and that’s just the first step to phase one,” Bishop said. “And it still places restrictions on all kinds of things, including businesses.”

As for future plans, Reopen Delaware doesn’t have any at the moment.

“We’re gonna see how things go,” Bishop said.