For American Legion Post 411, the decision to host a public demonstration outside Islip Town Hall was unusual. But members felt compelled to act.
On Saturday morning, the post held a “Blue Lives Matter” rally to show solidarity with law enforcement nationwide after a series of targeted attacks on officers.
About 80 people gathered, bearing signs reading “Stop Anti-Police Hatred” and “Honk if You Support Our Police.” A passing fire truck and a number of motorists obliged.
“When a cop is involved in something, he has a split second to decide what to do,” said the post commander, Roby Johnson, 69, of Islip. “There’s no one there to tell him what to do, it’s on the officer. And for the most part, they make the right decision.”
The event included a somber ceremony in which Legion members read aloud the names of scores of police, corrections and other law enforcement officers around the country who have been killed this year.
Blue balloons were released, and a bell was rung as each name was announced.
As a retired police officer, Johnson said the issue is personal, but that doesn’t mean he opposes the Black Lives Matters movement — forged out of outrage over police shootings of unarmed African Americans.
“All lives matter. Everybody matters,” he said.
Donna Stovall, a Riverhead-based co-organizer of Black Lives Matter rallies on the East End, said the events have been successful in part due to strong rapport with local police.
“One thing we have to realize is that we are not rallying against each other,” she said.
While the Legion doesn’t usually demonstrate, post vice commander Jim Duffy, 69, of East Islip, said this was an issue the group wanted to get behind.
Duffy said support for law enforcement should “cross all racial lines.” The post, he said, is also calling for state lawmakers to expand hate crimes to include police and active military.
Johnson, a former sergeant with the Rockville Centre Police Department, said police and communities of color have to rebuild trust.
“I don’t know if there are any easy answers,” he said. “But it has to be both sides getting together.”