A large crowd, which at least one organizer estimated at 250 people, gathered at Wait Park in Canby Friday night in a show of solidarity for law enforcement, at a time when weeks of nationwide demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have brought increased scrutiny to police tactics and racial relations.
Though it had been planned over a week ago, the event also happened to fall on the same day a sweeping package of police accountability measures championed by Black and Latinx lawmakers passed in the State Legislature, including outlawing the use of restraints that impede breathing or blood flow.
“Tonight, we gather to show our support for the men and women who proudly don the silver shield and swear an oath to protect and serve and be the thin, blue line between sanity and crazy,” said Canby Mayor Brian Hodson. “This thin, blue line is being tested and stressed like never before.”
Hodson has also spoken against systemic racism and the tactics used in the case of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of four former Minneapolis police officers sparked widespread unrest and demands for reform.
Floyd died after a former officer, who is now facing murder charges, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, a tactic Hodson said is not condoned by the Canby Police Department and which would be prohibited statewide under the new law that was passed Friday.
In the wake of weeks of protests, the role of law enforcement in our society is being widely debated and discussed. Calls to defund police department are being met in many cities by politicians who are, many of them for the first time, willing to listen.
And through it all, officers themselves remain on the front lines of the continuing protests, which have placed them in stressful and even dangerous situations. Some, like a Canby native who was recently sworn in as an officer in Reedsport, have been threatened simply for being police.
“Our officers need to know that they are, in fact, supported and appreciated,” Hodson said. “They need to know that the ones seeking their demise or to defund them are a very, very few. There are many, many more that support the shield and that thin, blue line.”
The event was organized by Canby Marine veteran Jordan Tibbals, along with two other combat vets. Martin Lackner, a Marine Gulf War veteran and the commander of the Canby/Aurora VFW Post 6057, said he often has police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders thanking him for his service.
“My service was a very short period in my life, and I feel like it was necessary. I felt I needed to do that to give back,” he said. “But we’re talking about a community of men and women that every day, get up and serve. They put on that uniform, they put on that badge, and they put their lives in danger every single day.”
Tibbals also expressed his “unapologetic” support for the men and women in blue, whom he called the “guardians of our community.” He was also critical of “most” of Oregon’s state elected officials and leaders, who he said do not show law enforcement the support that they should.
“Our city, our state and our nation need strong leaders, who are not afraid to stand up for our country, instead of trying to appease the mob,” he said. “Politicians who are letting our police officers be vilified for their failed policies is cowardice — not true leadership.”
Three weeks earlier, this same park was the site of a peaceful candlelight vigil in honor of Floyd and other black lives lost to senseless and racially motivated violence. There were no chants or marches, but many attendees carried signs bearing messages like “Black Lives Matter,” and “Say Their Names.”
But Tibbals did have strong words for the scenes of violence and destruction that have been seen in other places, including Portland.
“Appeasement is what led to our police being murdered, our cities burned and our businesses being destroyed,” he said. “Why do the rights of the individuals breaking the law and destroying our cities supersede the rights of law-abiding citizens and our police officers?”
A few attendees carried homemade signs supporting the Canby Police Department or law enforcement in general. Many carried flags, some with a blue line. Country music and patriotic songs were piped in at times. Children danced on the grass — a common sight during most summers as concerts and other events regularly overtake Wait Park, but not this year, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This was fun,” Tibbals said afterward, remarking on the turnout and positive atmosphere. “I think people have been missing some of this community.”
Mayor Hodson opened the event with prayer, several speakers quoted from the Bible, and things wrapped up with a recording of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.
Canby police did not attend in person, but were nearby, Tibbals said, ensuring the safety of those present. When CPD cruisers passed by later, after the event had concluded but with dozens of attendees still at the park, many clapped and cheered their appreciation.