Back The Blue rally draws supporters, counterprotesters in downtown Springfield
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - A Back the Blue rally and walk drew large crowds Sunday afternoon in downtown Springfield.
The demonstration was aimed at showing support for law enforcement. The rally started at Park Central Square around 2 p.m. Supporters rallied for about two hours before marching to the Springfield Police Department headquarters.
Blue line flags filled the square, while supporters wore T-shirts reading messages like “Back the Blue,” and “We’ve got your six.” Several speakers also took the stage, talking about the sacrifice law enforcement officers make every day they put on their badge and uniform.
Following the march, a veterans group gifted the Springfield Police Department and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office with appreciation awards, thanking them for protecting our communities.
The organizer of the Back the Blue event says this is her way to thank those who protect and serve.
"It's basically letting them know that we do care, we haven't forgotten about them and their lives matter to us," said MaryAnn Sterner.
It was a message that echoed with several supporters.
"We're here to support my brothers and sisters of law enforcement and just let all of the law enforcement officer across the nation know, 'we've got your six,'" said Kerri Dutcher.
Jason Winston, a deputy with the Greene County Sheriff's Office, says law enforcement officers go to work every day to uphold the rights and safety of everyone in their community, regardless of their beliefs or opinions on law enforcement.
“We wear this uniform, a badge and a gun and it tends to dehumanize us. We’re people, too. We have families. We not only work in this community, we raise our families here, a lot of us were born and raised here, graduated high school here, so we’re humans like everyone else,” he said.
Counterprotesters also stood in the square Sunday, waiving flags and holding signs and chanting messages like "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace."
At one point, counterprotesters and members of the Back the Blue rally screamed back and forth at each other. Officers briefly positioned themselves between both groups.
Black Live Matter Southwest Missouri chose to take a silent approach. The group lined up on the sidewalks around the square throughout the afternoon with signs sharing messages about Black lives, the LGBTQ community and Civil Rights.
“We wanted to show up, we wanted to have a presence and we’ll be silently protesting,” said Imari Stout, sounder of Black Lives Matter Southwest Missouri. “Our words will speak with our actions, like I said LGBTQ and Black lives have been silenced for centuries upon centuries. We’ve found other ways to get our message across, and that’s exactly what we’re doing today.”
Local activist, Jamille Jones with United Community Change, made an impromptu speak at the event. Her message: unity.
"I come here not knowing how you guys will respond to me. I come here always afraid of what will happen to me because I love you, you are my community," Jones said to the crowd of people. "We cannot do this separated, we cannot do this alone, and we will not achieve anything being against one another. We have to come together."
Both attendees of the rally and counter-protests cheered on her message Sunday.
Several people at the rally also remembered the 51st anniversary of the historic Stonewall riots. Many in the LGBTQ community stood up for the Black Lives Matter movement at the demonstration Sunday, also doing so in memory of the beginning of the push for gay rights
"We have so much to do," said Dmitri Trujillo. "After 51 years, we have rights, we have protection, we have marriage equality, but it's not enough. People can still be denied adoption, health care, and housing and jobs because of something they can't change."
During the demonstrations, police closed off several roads around Park Central Square.
Photos from the rally are included in the gallery below.