ITHACA, N.Y. A crowd brandishing black and white flags with the single blue stripe gathered outside the Ithaca Police Department headquarters Sunday in an effort to "Back the Blue," or in other words, show support for local law enforcement.
This comes at a time when calls to "defund the police" have been echoed throughout the country in response to highly publicized cases of police brutality.
"Between the pandemic, rioting and the increase in domestic unrest over the last several months, there has never been a more difficult time in our society to be a police officer. Residents of Tompkins County support our police, and will express our appreciation for their efforts in defending our community and upholding law and order during these trying and uncertain times," a press release from rally organizer Rocco Lucente states.
Lucente, who is not a Tompkins County resident, said during the rally, "this community has become one where our police officers are essentially at the mercy of the left-wing mob." He continued, "we are here to protect decency, and protect American traditions that make this country great."
Back the Blue was not the only group gathered downtown Sunday as has been the case for the last three months, Black Lives Matter protesters met to stand for an end to systemic racism including at the hands of law enforcement.
BLM protesters moved their weekly meeting spot from the Bernie Milton Pavilion to meet the Back the Blue group at IPD headquarters. With the two groups facing off, tensions were high and dueling chants erupted on Clinton St. "Back the Blue" cries were met with "Black Lives Matter."
Concern grew throughout the Ithaca community in the lead up to the rally, with some activists encouraging people of color to avoid downtown while the event was taking place. However, the meeting of the events was reletively tame, with some members of the Back the Blue group and BLM protesters attemping to make appeals to one another, with conversations between small groups from both sides occuring in the crowd.
Several speakers from the Back the Blue rally, including Randy Sterling of Dryden, a retired IPD officer who served in the city for over 30 years, made pleas to search for common ground.
"Your police department is reduced by one third from when I retired in 2008. You can't do that. You have more people here that require service there's more conflict with more people," Sterling said to the crowd. "So what's the answer? Let's meet in the middle of the street and talk about this."
Jason Padula, son of Michael Padula, an IPD officer killed in the line of duty in 1996 responding to a mental health call, also spoke at the rally.
"I support justice when justice is required for the bad guys. My father was not a bad guy, most of these people are not bad guys. I grew up around police officers and I never once heard them disparage anyone along the lines of race, along gender...of who you love never once," he said.
From the BLM side, Yasmin Rashid of the Unbroken Promise Initiative told Back the Blue that, "We are not here to offend. We are just here to call attention to what we are facing," Rashid said. "It's not about the fact that we are trying to say other people don't receive this type of treatment, but the record and the numbers are there that say we receive this treatment disproportionately and that needs attention called to it."
Despite the tension, the action remained peaceful on both sides and ended with the two groups dispersing and BLM protesters relocating to the Commons to hear speeches from community leaders and discuss how to further the movement for racial justice.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Rocco Lucente is a Tompkins County resident. He is a resident of Tioga County.
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