Supporters make noise for the police at State House rally

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  • Al Michaelhatch of Bristol, New Hampshire bows his head during the opening prayer at the Appreciation Rally for NH Law Enforcement at the State House in Concord on Saturday, June 20, 2010 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Al Michaelhatch of Bristol, New Hampshire salutes during the Pledge of Allegiance at the Appreciation Rally for NH Law Enforcement at the State House in Concord on Saturday, June 20, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Philip Abirached of Windham, New Hampshire carries a blue flag in honor of the police at the start of the Appreciation Rally for NH Law Enforcement on the State House grounds on Saturday, June 20, 2020. Abirached was one of the event organizers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Philip Abirached (left), one of the organizers, and Dick Burns attend the Appreciation Rally for N.H. Law Enforcement at the State House in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • More than 100 people attended the Appreciation Rally for N.H. Law Enforcement at the State House in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/20/2020 4:33:56 PM

Since George Floyd was killed last month, traffic has stopped and forced us to pull over and figure out how to combat racism, starting with law enforcement’s treatment of black people.

Protests and rallies were held across the country, and here in front of the State House, underscoring a universal message: Black Lives Matter.

Saturday, though, was the other-side-of-the-issue rally, the one that said thank you to the police for their bravery and questioned if racism, truly, is a problem within the police ranks. Those in attendance said they felt great sorrow and disgust toward the treatment Floyd received from a Minneapolis officer, who refused to take his knee off the back of Floyd’s neck. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd gasped before he died.

So here we were, on a sticky Saturday, still trying to figure out who we are as a people and where we’re going as a country.

“We want to show (police) that we are backing them up,” said Philip Abirached, a Southern New Hampshire businessman and one of four hosts for this rally. “We need them to keep the state of law and order.”

Another planner was Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, a state rep from Derry. This was personal for her. She told me she was neglected and abused as a child. She said she got into trouble. She said the cops always tried to help her, treated her like gold, drove her home when danger was near.

“The overwhelming majority of cops go into the field because they want to make the world a better place,” Prudhomme-O’Brien said. “I’m a rape survivor, and years later I reported it and I was touched how kind a cop was about that. He asked me to file, even though the statute of limitations had expired. I was happy he took it so seriously.”

The grassroots effort to boost police morale began just three days ago. There were about 125 people in the plaza Saturday, in front of the steps.

A pastor spoke at the podium, as did the president of the New Hampshire Police Association, part of an event aimed at showing the police a little love.

“The press, and no insult to you, is not covering all of the good work that we do,” said Pastor Garrett Lear of Wakefield. “They’re covering some, a few officers across the country that are using techniques not even used in New Hampshire. We have some of the finest police officers that I know in the nation, and I have served in every state of the union.”

Appreciating the men and women in blue was that purpose of the rally, to be sure. Other topics, like addressing racism were barely on the table. For one thing, discussing Floyd and the video showing him dying in the street was not a popular topic.

“(The Floyd video) was deeply concerning,” Prudhomme-O’Brien said. “But this rally is all about acknowledging and appreciating the great cops I have known.”

Everyone agreed: There was no justification for what the cop did to Floyd. Whether it was racially motivated or not was another story, for another time.

A united voice has emerged from this. No one will condone what the cop did last month. Not even Rush Limbaugh would.

“That video was hard to watch and I thought it was disgusting,” said Wayne Marsh of Manchester. “I can’t believe nobody stopped it. I would have pushed back. It was uncalled for.”

But the ramifications are troubling as well, says Marsh. “Being mad doesn’t lead to looting, beating people up, putting people in comas. That’s not angry; that’s something else.”

“There was excessive force, absolutely,” Abirached said. “We need to train more on not using excessive force, regardless of the color, regardless of race. But we’re not talking about race here. We’re talking about excessive force.”

It was his rally, and Abirached worked hard at staying on script, talking about a bad apple doing a horrible thing that brought unfair criticism to the thousands of of good cops around the nation. He stayed focused on the topic of supporting police, keeping it isolated and manageable to speak about, without the thorns created by questions of systemic racism.

That, of course, is the central issue here: Which prism do you use to view Floyd’s death. The one that creates a metaphor, that African Americans have had a knee pressing down on them for centuries? A lot of people see it that way, people of all colors, people who wonder how many videos are needed before the jury comes back with that elusive verdict.

Or the one that sees high poll numbers favoring the job police here and everywhere are doing. The one that says regardless of what went through the Minneapolis cop’s mind that awful night, you can not – you must not – assume that this type of hatred is widespread.

As for a cop’s voice, the president of the New Hampshire Police Association, Mark Morrison, was one of the guest speakers.

A pragmatist, he sounded like he was ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work. A lot needs to be done.

“Right now there are people who are hurting,” Morrison told the attendees. “The events around the tragic and avoidable death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a failure on behalf of an officer who should have known better, who should have done better.”

“We must be part of the solution,” Morrison continued. “And we will.”

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