About 300 people turned out for the “Back the Blue Rally” in Southampton Village Saturday morning. Despite much anticipation surrounding the event, it was a peaceful gathering.
“If there is anybody out here who doesn’t have thick skin, there might be a few people trying to antagonize you. Please don’t walk with us. We don’t need a good day to turn into a bad day,” said Kenny Oliver, the organizer, told the crowd at Agawam Park. “We need to be respectful of what we’re marching for.”
After the rally was announced last month, some aligned it with white nationalist hate groups, which Oliver denied. A retired Southampton Town and New York City police officer who lives in North Sea, he said he only wanted to show support for law enforcement and military after a difficult summer. He also denied it was a counter-protest to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We need to be respectful for what this cause is for,” Oliver said. “If there’s any agitators in the crowd — I’ve already spoken to the police — we’re going to police ourselves. If someone in the crowd who is walking with us is getting out of hand, doing the wrong thing, and they don’t want to leave the walk, point them out to the police, police have already been notified, they’ll deal with it. This is a peaceful walk. This isn’t a counter protest. This is just to show support — much needed support — for the military, National Guard, and the police department.”
The introduction including a blessing, the Pledge of Allegiance, and “The Star-Spangled Banner, “sung by 14-year-old Julianne Gargiulo of Manorville.
About 50 motorcyclists led the march around the village. Police officers shut down the streets in the heart of the business district for the march. Some hoisted American flags or “thin blue line” flags. Others carried signs, like “We support and pray for our police,” or “Thank you. Back the Blue.”
There were about four to five people along the route wearing Black Lives Matters shirts. One woman, Tanish Lindsay, who has organized several protests in Montauk, quietly joined in on the march. A rally and march called “Black Lives STILL Matter” is planned for the same location Saturday afternoon at 4.
While the organizer said the rally was not political, one woman held a sign that said, “Cuomo must resign now! For all his bad decision!,” followed by a list including “defunding police” and “killing elderly in nursing homes from the virus.” The sign also said, “NY is in chaos.” An estimated 80% of the participants properly wore a mask.
Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who represents the North Fork and portions of the Town of Brookhaven, was among those in attendance. He is also running on the Republican ticket for State Senate to fill the seat Senator Ken LaValle Jr has long held. Palumbo’s father was a Suffolk County homicide detective and he grew up in a law enforcement family. He went on to be a Suffolk prosecutor, working as the trial supervisor for the five East End towns.
“The climate has gotten so crazy,” he told IndyEastEnd.com. “But I think it’s even more important this year. Has a lot to do with what I think is the Albany – New York City politics that are not just pro-defendant’s rights now. I think the pendulum has swung so far now that it is visibly and actually anti-police. And that is not our way of life here.”
He pointed to the six Long Island Democrats in the Senate who voted with the New York City Democrats in favor of progressive reforms, like bail reform — “which has been disastrous, makes our communities less safe” — and making police personnel files subject to public disclosure.
“That’s why this is so important and it’s great to see such a wonderful turnout,” he said. “That’s critical that we show our support to let them know we have their back and that I always will, I have and I will continue to do so in the event that I am lucky enough to win this seat.”
Joe DeStefano, a New York State Assemblyman who represents portions of the Town of Brookhaven, said that more rallies like these are being planned throughout the county.
“As a 27-year member of the Sheriff’s office, I know what it’s like to be on the front lines. We do every thing we can in Albany to support all the initiatives that support our law enforcement community and our veterans,” he said. “We believe that what is going on in our cities and our state is horrendous and we don’t want to tolerate it. We want to make sure that the people who are the silent majority become the vocal majority to let people know and don’t be afraid to say what it is that you feel what your law enforcement do for you every day in your community.”
With reporting by Christine Heeren