Supporters gathered to show solidarity for law enforcement at a Village of the Branch parking lot July 3. This comes weeks after protesters filled Smithtown’s Main Street in support of Black Lives Matter calling for an end to police violence and racism.
Many waved and held signs supporting reading “back the blue” and “respect our law enforcement.” American, Thin Blue and Trump 2020 flags also filled the Branch Plaza parking lot. Participants said they have seen a significant increase in anti-police sentiment and violence toward police officers.
The rally drew a sizable crowd, though a majority of participants did not adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as many did not wear masks or keep 6 feet apart despite organizers’ requests to do so.
Robert Cornicelli, event organizer for the dubbed “Freedom Rally,” said that the demonstration wasn’t a protest to counter Black Lives Matter or other groups.
“This is a rally to show that we are Americans,” he said. “We love our freedoms. We’ll defend it and fight for it ‘til the end,” he said.
Smithtown resident Cris Melendez, a former New York City police officer, said there should be more support for law enforcement.
“I have never seen anything like this, that the government is not supporting our police officers,” he said. “It’s a disgrace, it’s heartbreaking — I can’t even watch the news anymore. It’s terrible.”
Noel DiGerolamo, Suffolk PBA president, blamed “weak” elected officials for the shift in attitude toward law enforcement.
“There is no institutional problem in law enforcement,” he said to the crowd. “The institutional problem is with our elected officials who are too busy trying to keep their jobs instead of doing the job. Start showing some respect for people who are willing to lay down their lives for you every day.”
Jim Jernigan, a retired Suffolk County detective from Central Islip, was also concerned by the recent anti-police sentiment. He joined the department in 1979 and said since 9/11 he has seen the public attitude continue to worsen.
“People loved us, what happened in those 19 years?” he said. “It’s politicians.”
Smithtown Councilman Thomas Lohmann (R) and Mario Mattera, a St. James union leader who is running for State Senate on the Republican ticket, also spoke at the event.
In addition, first responders, veterans and health care professionals were honored at the rally. Bela Snow of Smithtown sang during the rally performing the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless the USA.”