Security guarded the Back The Blue rally entrance Sunday as Black Lives Matter counter protesters hovered nearby. Inside Park in Bloomington, hundreds of people gathered for what was billed as a simple “thank you” to local law enforcement.
At the podium was Wendy Carlton, a mother of five and wife of Bloomington Police Sgt. Ty Carlton, who has been an officer for 17 years. Carlton’s 5-year-old boy hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps into law enforcement. Her two daughters also were in attendance to support their dad.
Carlton reflected on how there is never a day that goes by that she doesn’t pray for her husband's safe return home.
“When he left the week we were having the looting in early June, he made sure I was comfortable handling our firearms in our home,” said Carlton. “I know he was scared as to what people would do to his family while he was working.”
Sunday’s rally unfolded in the wake of another police shooting of a Black man in America—Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Many counter protesters chanted Blake’s name just outside the gates at GE Park on Sunday.
Carlton thinks Americans have the right to say what they want to say and respond the way they want to respond. As far as the protests happening in Kenosha and right outside the gates of GE Park, Carlton said she doesn’t believe it is acceptable to cause violence toward police officers.
“It’s not OK to spit, throw body fluids or frozen ice water bottles, but it is absolutely the right of every American to state how they feel. If they feel discriminated against, if they feel supported, I completely support them (the counter protesters) for wanting to say their part and be heard,” said Carlton. “This is not a protest. This is completely a rally. We are only here to tell our officers, ‘Thank you for doing your job. We know that you have a lot of hard decisions to make and a lot of split decisions to make, and we understand you are scrutinized against big time.’”
Among those in the crowd was Republican state Reps. Darren Bailey and Dan Brady, former Illinois House candidate David Paul Blumenshine, and Normal City Council member Stan Nord.
Bailey, from southern Illinois, drove to the McLean County’s Back the Blue rally after attending one in Charleston on Saturday. He has emerged this summer as one of Gov. JB Pritzker’s chief critics over his handling of the pandemic.
Bailey said our country’s freedoms were established nearly 250 years ago by putting everything on the line. He said it is a “shame that we find ourselves on the cusp of losing those very freedoms” and encouraged everyone to know who they are voting for and to register to vote.
“It is time to hold our governor in check and to stop this nonsense,” said Bailey, adding if he were to get pulled over, he doesn’t care what race the officer is.
“If he wants to see my driver’s license, I totally understand that. They (police) have to understand and start at a point of knowing who I am,” said Bailey. “And to sit there and say, ‘I don’t have to, or I’m not going to’ is wrong, and that leads up to what we are seeing.”
Brady said it is important to show support for local law enforcement.
“Right here in McLean County we have a great relationship between groups like the NAACP and law enforcement. We cooperate, we work together. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement," he said. "I think anyone would tell you that everyone has the right to protest, peacefully. I think the principles of charity, justice and brotherly love is what we need to focus on.”
Gearing up for the election, Brady said he is trying to treat everyone with mutual respect despite political differences.
“I think, overall, the common goal is for the common good. That’s for this community, my district I represent and the people I represent. I continue to work hard, by staying in touch with those people, staying grounded, focused and delivering constituent services,” said Brady.
Why they came
Janet Mohrman and her husband came to Sunday’s rally in their red “Make America Great Again” hats. Like most in the crowd Sunday, they were not wearing a face mask.
“We wanted to show the police force that they are not forgotten. Sure, there’s a few bad apples everywhere, in every profession, but for the most part in Bloomington-Normal the police do an exemplary job keeping us safe,” said Mohrman. “We wanted to show them that we care.”
One of the rally’s organizers, Becky Swan, explained her support for law enforcement. Swan’s husband is a Marine, and she comes from a long line of military on her father's side. Her biggest reason: her daughter has bipolar disorder and was saved by local law enforcement.
“Normal PD and BPD saved our daughter last year on several occasions and in several places in our community. Because of them and our EMT, our daughter got the treatment she needed and is thriving today,” said Swan.
Also in the crowd, waving an American flag and wearing a “Trump 2020” T-shirt, was Mark Kaphaem of Bloomington-Normal. He said he believes that without support from the community, law enforcement many dwindle down to nothing.
“They really need to know our support in order to do their job, because they’re a small minority of the population. They need to know their communities are thankful for them, nobody wants them to be on the defense,” said Kaphaem.
He said he has close friends who are Black, but he is worried people are going to see violence on YouTube of Black people harassing white people and they’re going to “retaliate” against his friends.
“I live in a community that has all different cultures, all different races and I am continually having beautiful conversations and smiling. I see love everywhere,” said Kaphaem. “There’s a small minority that is stealing the narrative.”
Kaphaem suggested sending police on retreats where positivity can be expressed and where they can get away and refresh. An example would be a police seminar where officers could express what is like to serve the community.
“Where they could freely talk about the things they face and how they deal with it, and get support. The people who want to defund the police are criminals,” said Kaphaem.
The Trump supporter said it will make all the difference for local law enforcement to know their chief is going to have their backs.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Curran was the rally’s closing speaker. He leaned into the podium and said, “There is law enforcement that protects us from evil. That’s the thin blue line folks. They’re the thin blue line that keeps us safe. You folks get it. Some of those folks on the outside don’t.”
Curran suggested the crowd bow their heads in prayer for the “folks who don’t get it” and ask God to soften their hearts.
“We ask that you soften the hearts of the people out there that are filled with hatred for law enforcement, our country and our president,” said Curran.