A sea of more than 1,000 people holding “thin blue line” and American flags packed Eisenhower Park for a Back the Blue Demonstration that was met by a small counter-protest on Saturday.
The rally, which was sponsored by the nonprofit organization Law Enforcement Officers Weekend, drew visitors from police departments across Long Island and New York City, along with community members and supporters from local pro-police organizations. Speakers who railed against claims that police are a problem included Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott, the police union leader who represents the county’s rank-and-file officers and argued the county is immune to issues of discrimination in law enforcement — a notion local protesters and activists in recent weeks have rallied against.
“We don’t have these problems here in Nassau County,” McDermott said. “We have tremendous relationships in all communities, including the minority communities, and they trust us and we worked on that. We fostered these relationships.”
The rally was the latest in a series of recent demonstrations in Wantagh, Port Jefferson, and elsewhere in defiance of nationwide protests — including more than 100 on LI — against police brutality over the past two months since Minneapolis police officers allegedly murdered George Floyd in May. The pro-police demonstrators instead denounce efforts to defund the police by reallocating part of some law enforcement agencies’ budgets to fund social services programs.
McDermott said county leadership, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, have “abandoned” the community by failing to stand up for police “day in, day out.”
Amidst those also showing support for President Donald Trump with flags, hats, and shirts, retired NYPD lieutenant and criminal justice professor Darrin Porcher encouraged visitors to “stand up and fight in the voter’s booth” in November. He added that many elected officials are driving a false narrative that “police officers are going out there to kill citizens.”
Among other speakers at the rally was Genesis Familia, who lost her mother, NYPD Detective Miosotis Familia, in 2017 when she was killed by a shooter while sitting in her mobile command unit in the Bronx. Familia said police officers like her mother sacrifice “so much for their friends and family and to protect New Yorkers,” which is why she appreciated the support of those at the rally.
“[Miosotis] was an amazing human being and she was taken from me and those that loved her and that knew her for the blue uniform that she proudly wore,” Familia said. “And I just want all Americans to remember that all these cops out here protecting us are human beings with families and friends and loved ones who need them to come home.”
Familia concluded a speaker lineup that underwent several changes prior to Saturday, most notably with the removal of controversial musician Ted Nugent. Nugent was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the rally, but faced significant community backlash from local leaders late this week and was reminded of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 14-day quarantine executive order before opting out late Friday.
About an hour into the demonstration, several dozen counter-protesters, primarily from the activist groups Black White Brown United and Long Island Peaceful Protesters, arrived outside the rally area. Once moved by Nassau police officers to a designated “free speech area” nearby, numerous attendees of the rally went to confront the protesters, including several who evaded police officers attempting to separate the groups.
As tension mounted following several scuffles between the two groups, two lines of police officers moved in to keep the groups apart. Competing “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” chants were a common theme throughout.
Matthew Williams, 38, of Amityville, and a member of BWBU, said one of the group’s main reasons for coming to the rally was to demonstrate that they are not anti-police, but “anti-police brutality.”
“We came here to make sure that as much as you guys [pro-police supporters] love law enforcement, that you love your minorities in this country as well,” Williams said. “That’s our goal to make sure if you guys are so passionate about a uniform you can be just as passionate about a life in this country.”
Williams said the group is looking to create a stronger dialogue with police in the community and work towards having some of their demands met. Among them include having school resource officers teach more about police brutality and racial profiling, mandating the use of body cameras, and creating internships for those in minority communities who are interested in serving their area as an officer in the future.
Chantee Stover, 38, of Mastic Beach, and also a member of BWBU said the group just wants peace and “change in our society” that promotes equality.
“I’m tired, it saddens me,” Stover said. “I just want better for our world. We could be doing so much more with our time and our lives than fighting racism and still fighting for equality. We shouldn’t have to.”
-With Fanni Frankle