Weeks after marchers flooded Smithtown’s Main Street to proclaim Black Lives Matter, a crowd gathered Friday to voice a rejoinder on behalf of the police.
“Start showing some respect for people who are willing to lay down their lives for you every day,” said Noel DiGerolamo, Suffolk PBA president.
In a Village of the Branch parking lot lined by flags — American, Thin Blue Line and Trump 2020 — DiGerolamo and others condemned what they said was a rising tide of anti-police sentiment and violence against officers.
Some in the crowd were officers themselves, or had family members who were.
James Jernigan, 67, a retired Suffolk County detective from Central Islip, said in an interview that he’d been alarmed by a change in public attitude toward his former profession. For years after 9/11, he said, people “appreciated what we did,” but that relationship “deteriorated, became unrecognizable. It’s not American,” he said.
He blamed the Democratic Party and some New York politicians for that swing, though not Democrats in office in Suffolk County, a distinction police union officials have also made in recent remarks.
Steve Gillian, 63, of Nesconset, said he had a nephew serving on the Seattle police force and a son on the NYPD, and found news media coverage of protests in those cities deeply unsettling.
“Alls we hear is, ‘This is OK, this is freedom in America,'” with little attention paid to the danger faced by officers, he told the crowd.
Later, in an interview, he said that after his son was called into work in the early days of protests in New York City, he watched television news to see if he could make out his son by the number on his riot helmet.
“You sit there with anxiety in your heart,” he said. He dismissed one of protesters’ claims that Americans of color face systemic racism in daily life and their encounters with police. “Yes, we’ve had our problems in the past, but we’e gotten better and we continue to get better ... I know my son — I raised my son. I am not a racist and he is not a racist.”
Other speakers included local Republican figures with law enforcement or military backgrounds including event organizer Robert Cornicelli, Smithtown Councilman Thomas Lohmann, and Mario Mattera, a St. James civic leader who is running for State Senate.
A flyer for the event said first responders, veterans and health care professionals were also being honored.
In an interview before the rally, Cornicelli said it would be a “B-2 injection of positivity” recognizing people who “go out every day and do selfless acts to keep us healthy.”
He also said the rally would adhere to “CDC guidelines of 6 feet separation and wearing masks,” though there was no apparent separation and most people did not wear masks.