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When Ohio man Eric Downing scheduled a pro-police rally at Chardon High School for this Friday, he never expected so many people to show up.
Downing, a resident of Chardon, Ohio, announced the rally Tuesday after the school issued a ban on “thin blue line” Blue Lives Matter flags in response to one student player having carried the flag during the school team’s season opener last Friday.
Speaking with local WKYC, he said he’d expected a few dozen people to show up max. Instead, virtually the entire community turned up, and for good reason.
The night before the rally, 25+ year veteran officer Det. James Skernivitz of the Cleveland Police Department was murdered while out on the job.
“I think it really hits home why we’re doing this. You never know, when an officer leaves, you don’t know when he’s coming back,” Downing said.
Det. James Skernivitz, 25-year veteran of the Cleveland PD & Brecksville resident, was shot & killed recently in the line of duty. My condolences to his family & friends, fellow officers, & his home community. We should all honor his life & service. https://t.co/BLDoL4NaUd pic.twitter.com/IGC0Y3FizQ
— Phil Robinson (@RobinsonForOH) September 5, 2020
It’s a message that apparently never occurred to the administrators of Chardon High School. After the incident at the school’s season opener last Friday, Chardon Superintendent Michael Hanlon issued a letter suggesting that the flag had racist overtones that were offensive to minorities.
“Based on discussions that ensued over the weekend, it does not appear that this action was motivated by racism, rather a show of support for one of our coaches who serves as a police officer, as well as for the first responders in our community who have developed a special relationship with our school and students in the wake of our school tragedy of February 27, 2012,” he reportedly wrote.
“Nevertheless, it is understandable how this could be interpreted as a racially-motivated action and, therefore, not acceptable in a school community.”
His decision and announcement provoked widespread backlash, including from former Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski:
Chardon Local Schools bans thin blue line flag after students carry it on field before football game. As a former Peace Officer and an American, I am DISGUSTED by this. https://t.co/8ZIuIau2WJ
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) September 1, 2020
Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri also expressed outrage.
“Words can not explain the anger, frustration, and disappointment I felt while reading your letter to community members,” he wrote in a stern letter of his own sent Tuesday.
“Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me to express the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism. Mr. Hanlon, you have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you do not carry the compassion, understanding, and leadership quality that is required in your position.”
Geauga County Commissioner … by WKYC.com
Later that evening, Chardon Board of Education president Madelon Horvath released her own statement expressing support for Hanlon’s decision but trying to reduce the backlash by claiming that the district still supports and appreciates the police.
“The Chardon Board of Education would like to make it clear that we are in full support of Dr. Hanlon’s and the Administration’s decision regarding the football team’s display of the Thin Blue Line flag on the field at last week’s football game,” she reportedly said.
“Because it was displayed as part of a pre-game ceremony under the supervision of school staff, it was construed as sanctioned by the school district. Political activity by staff members is not allowable under Board of Education policy.”
The backlash eventually culminated in a booming rally Friday outside Chardon High School.
Thousands of locals reportedly attended the rally, including Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus, who appeared touched by all the support.
“To see that the public cares about us, that means a lot to the officers,” he said.
Chardon High School administrators have since reportedly backed off, kind of.
“In a statement, they say the flag isn’t banned from football games, however it is board policy that staff (in this case coaches) not participate in something that could be perceived as political,” WKYC reported Friday.
“Those marching in Chardon on Friday night say the flag isn’t political and shouldn’t be perceived as such.”
Indeed, it’s not clear how showing support for the uniformed men and women who put their lives on the line daily to protect the American people is a political act.
The school’s sentiment does nevertheless fit with the times. Throughout America, there’s a growing anti-cop animus motivated by the fatal and non-fatal shootings or apprehensions of black criminal suspects like George, Rayshard Brooks, and Jacob Blake, the latter of whom is an accused sex abuser.
But lost in the debate over these shootings/apprehensions is a recognition of the immense risks cops face in their mission to protect the public.
These risks were especially present when, during a mass shooting at Chardon High School itself in 2012, local officers reportedly ran into the school.
Learn more about the shooting below:
“I thought it just was really a disrespect to the people who ran into the school to save the teachers and students in 2012,” Downing said to local station WJW, contrasting the officers’ response with the school’s recent decision.
“Every day they leave, they kiss their family goodbye, they have no idea if they’re gonna make it back, no idea at all and how can you not respect them for protecting you?”
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