A rally to show support for law enforcement at Civic Center Park Saturday was disrupted by protesters demonstrating against the use of police force in light of the May 25 death of George Floyd.
Over 200 people packed the park for Back the Blue, a rally for members of law enforcement organized by Kenosha resident Keri Martin.
“I am just an everyday citizen who wanted to show her support of law enforcement,” she said prior to the event.
Many rally attendees carried signs stating “Back the Badge” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
Across 56th Street, in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse, protesters gathered with signs ranging from “Black Lives Matter” to “Jail Killer Cops” and “Don’t Be On the Wrong Side of History.”
Violent clash of differing sides
A violent confrontation between those attending the rally and protesters broke out just prior to the 11 a.m. event.
At one point, multiple Back the Blue supporters were seen, and documented on video by the Kenosha News, beating on one counter protester there to promote police reform, and another pro-police reform protester, a woman was seen being punched in the face by a Back the Blue supporter, which was documented in photograph by the Kenosha News.
Police arrived after the two people involved in the first altercation directly across from the dinosaur museum in Civic Center Park had been separated by people on the scene.
The two opposing groups stood yelling at each other near that spot for minutes until police officers made the pro-police reform protesters move across the street to the steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse, where their counterprotest began Saturday morning.
Another counterprotester was removed by force from the Back the Blue rally after interrupting one of the speakers, former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, as many pro-police reform protesters interrupted the rally with chants, with one even circling the Back the Blue rally while banging a pot.
Back the Blue rally-goers countered with chants of “We back the blue” and “USA!”
The event included a prayer for law enforcement officers by Tim Blackburn, Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department chaplain, a singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance,. Speakers included local businessman Ralph Nudi, a representative of Sen. Ron Johnson and Clarke.
“The thin blue line that divides us from chaos is being stretched every day,” Blackburn said as he invoked prayers for police officers.
Speakers address crowd
Speakers supported the efforts of law enforcement officers, denounced initiatives to “defund” law enforcement agencies and contended that protests should not be pitting law enforcement against the Black Lives Matter movement.
Such protests are “a false narrative,” said Nudi. “Every American citizen’s life matters,” he said.
Tawsif Anan, reading a message from Sen. Johnson, said the counter protests were “anarchy and chaos.”
Clarke, invited by Martin to speak at the event, helped redirect the attention of the Back the Blue rally-goers after the brief disruption by the anti-law enforcement group.
Clarke was greeted with a roar of applause. Known nationally for his vocal support of law enforcement and the Trump administration, he criticized orders for police to stand down. “The police as a profession doesn’t need any reform,” he said.
Clarke also charged rally-goers to be organized to get the message out in support of law enforcement.
“Stand and be counted — we’re not going to sit this one out,” he said.
As he addressed the crowd, a woman came up behind him shouting “Black Lives Matter!” Clarke encouraged the crowd not to react and she was quietly removed by the crowd.
As a result of the disturbances, a peaceful march scheduled to take place around the courthouse and police station following the speeches was cancelled.
“We don’t want to make more work for our law enforcement officers,” Martin said.
Mostly positive response, from rally supporters
Response to the rally was positive by those who attended.
“I’m here to back the blue — they deserve our support,” said Christine Consiglero of New Berlin.
A couple from Waukesha, who declined to give their last names, said they were excited to be able to attend the rally.
“For weeks we only heard one side; this is the first time we’ve had an opportunity voice our opinion,” said Milette K. of Waukesha.
Martin said, although she expected a smaller gathering, she was “not surprised” by the number who turned out for the rally.
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