This past Sunday, a massive gathering of police supporters rallied in Crocheron Park in Bayside under the banner of Blue Lives Matter, a movement of police supporters countering the apparent political momentum for defunding and constraining the ability of police officers to arrest individuals.
“Back the Blue,” participants chanted while flying modified American flags that ran a thin blue line in memory of officers killed on the job. Having attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Forest Hills last month, I was thinking of attending this rally, as well.
I recognize that racism is a factor in the disproportionate number of Black individuals stopped by police, prosecuted by the courts, and among the inmate population, but I do not believe that reducing the budget and number of cadets would resolve racial tensions between police departments and communities of color.
On the other hand, we’ve seen how demonstrations can spin out of control with a few hot-headed individuals appearing on camera and putting the entire crowd in a bad light. At a rally in front of the Flushing Library on Independence Day, most of the participants were Asian-Americans wearing masks, disproving the leftist narrative that pro-police crowds are a mostly white and Republican affair. These immigrants stood with American flags and messages of gratitude to the NYPD, although their slogan “All Lives Matter” created antagonism as it was created to directly counter “Black Lives Matter.” I would have preferred a slogan that is more supportive of the police rather than confrontational, but if anyone was incited enough by someone else’s sign to act violently, the person holding the sign should not be held accountable.
Last Sunday, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights, a pro-police rally made the news for the wrong reasons, with scenes of middle-aged white participants cursing and spitting at counter-demonstrators with Black Lives Matter signs. Social media and mainstream news outlets took their cue, decrying Dyker Heights as a racist community, with thousands of retweets, likes, shares, and comments spreading the defamation of the pro-police rally.
“Very fine people, on both sides,” was President Donald Trump’s remark in 2017, describing the tension between supporters and opponents of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. Such a statement can certainly apply to the competing rallies favoring and opposing the police.
The rally in Crocheron Park was headlined by Jonathan Gilliam, a navy veteran, retired cop, and conservative radio show host. The rally featured plenty of flags representing this country, and Thin Blue Line, NYPD, and Trump 2020 signs. I’ve written how the presence of anti-Israel posters, rainbow flags, and anti-cop slogans made me uncomfortable at the Black Lives Matter rally in Forest Hills. Likewise, I did not want to be associated with the Trump flags and the racist behavior by some of the rally participants at the Dyker Heights and Bayside rallies, which is why I opted not to attend.
For the time being, I support the individual expressions of support for the police coming from members of the Queens Jewish community, such as the Youth Minyan at Ohr Natan in Rego Park, which delivered pizza, sushi, and doughnuts to the 112th Precinct last month. I’ve also taught my children to say “thank you” when seeing a uniformed officer, and to know that their job isn’t solely focused on punishing individuals. Their work includes assisting and rescuing individuals in need.
In the past few days, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link, suggested that the Queens Jewish community organize its own event to express support for the NYPD. If this event can stay on message and maintain discipline, I would certainly attend and report on it for this newspaper.
If Rabbi Schonfeld’s proposed event would have a positive message, it would not appear in the mainstream media. Certainly, at such an event, there would be counter-demonstrators to protest the police, and some participants may feel the urge to confront them. If they would restrain their urge to curse and spit at them, it wouldn’t make the news. Whenever my two children walk past the 107th Precinct and shout “thank you,” it also doesn’t make the news. The officers hear us and that’s what counts.
A year ago, my friend Avraham Engelson was moving out of Queens. His apartment was next to the precinct but he had never been inside the building. With the permission of the precinct commander, I took his family inside the room where the Community Precinct Council meets every month. The walls and display cabinets contained old police uniforms, a motorcycle, flags, and photographs. Our children loved it and I wish more people could see it, as it demonstrates the difficult work and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform. Ours is a one-family rally of support known only to the officers present…and the readers of this column.
By Sergey Kadinsky