TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – A Back the Blue rally took place in front of the Ithaca Police Department on Sunday afternoon. The rally, in support of local law enforcement, was scheduled to overlap with a series of Black Lives Matter rallies that have gathered in front of the police department every Sunday since June.
Back The Blue organizer Rocco Lucente, who called it a coincidence, said there is no intent to incite conflict. The Tioga County resident said their rally was about more than supporting local law enforcement.
“We are here to defend liberty, order, we are here to defend the Constitution. Our opponents are against all of these things,” Lucente said to the crowd.
He described the issue as larger than police funding.
“By showing up here today you have sent a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We will not be run by a mob of thugs and criminals.”
Most Back the Blue supporters stood in front of the police department. Across the street were other supporters, as well as participants in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Among the people standing across from the police department was Ithaca resident David McDermitt, along with his wife, Denise and their son.
Denise McDermitt, who’s a lifelong Ithaca resident, came to show support for the police. Over the years, she says the police have responded to break-ins at her parents’ business, for wild animals and other incidents. Ithaca police have always come when her family needed help, she said.
Her husband has similar feelings.
“I’m here because the rallies I’ve seen they use the phrase ‘ACAB’, All Cops Are Bastards. And so while I believe all Black lives matter I feel like the pro-law enforcement side hasn’t, I feel like the IPD officers are just people at the end of the day and should be supported,” David McDermitt said.
He wants to express support for some of the goals of Black Lives Matters and law enforcement.
“I feel like it’s out of balance locally. If I felt like it was only this and not Black Lives Matter, I’d be at the Black Lives Matter rally right now. It’s just a question of balance and loving on both sides,” David McDermitt said. “I wanna love and support both sides.”
Hoping to improve race relations, McDermitt said he’s spent the summer participating in anti-racism book club discussions with colleagues at Cornell. He wanted to listen and learn how he can better support his colleagues of color.
Not everyone at the rally sounded as hopeful.
Retired law enforcement officer Mark Cave lives in Vestal. Cave, who’s African American, came to show support for fellow law enforcement officers.
He said protesters over the summer painted police with a broad, inaccurate brush.
“I personally think there’s been irreversible damage between race relations. Between this false narrative that’s been pushed in this country towards law enforcement,” Cave said. “There’s irreversible damage between people of color between whites and between law enforcement.”
However, retired Ithaca Police officer Randy Sterling, who is white and lives in Dryden, is more hopeful. He grounded his comments in his religious faith.
Speaking to the crowd, he said “We can get through this. Together. You gotta want to. You don’t always get your own way. You gotta come together, share ideas doesn’t matter the slant of the eyes, the color of the skin.”
Both retirees agree that further community-wide conversations are need. Assuming there is a sincere willingness on all sides, he thinks they can find common ground.