Some two dozen demonstrators arrayed themselves at the north boundary of the town Common at 6 pm on Friday, facing The Great Road. And as they began their weekly rally in support of Black lives, a man and a woman dashed down the line, bumping elbows in lieu of high-fives and offering encouragement: “We support you guys, too.”
The boosters were Geoff Chase and Lee Lavi, organizers of a 3 o’clock rally that took place in the same spot, in support of the Bedford Police Department.
And although those two positions have resulted in acrimony and tension when crossing paths in many area towns, the confluence of rallies here, while not exactly a love-in, proved that each could deliver their messages positively.
The rally in support of the police was announced less than three weeks ago, scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, demonstrations in support of Black lived have been taking place on the Common since early June.
Immediately both sides took steps to defuse potential conflict, each pointing out that supporting local police and demonstrating for full equality and justice for Black citizens are not mutually exclusive. The end time of the police rally was changed from 6 to 5 o’clock, leaving a one-hour gap before the other event.
Friday afternoon around 2:45, Chase and Lavi huddled with Mark Bailey and the Rev. John Gibbons, sponsor of the rally for Black lives, for a final check-in.
Meanwhile, seated at a table outside Ken’s deli across The Great Road, two police officers in plainclothes kept their eye on things. A uniformed officer nearby occasionally stopped traffic for pedestrians.
Each rally began on time, in front of the World War I monument and its flag, flying at half-staff. As one would expect, the rally to show support for local police was more celebratory than the demonstration for equity and justice.
Nevertheless, there were several similarities. Each event topped out at around 65 participants (though the afternoon rally, an hour longer in duration, drew around 100 different people). Each event consisted of signs and waves, with passing motorists returning honks and gestures, mostly positive. The horn tones reflected the time of day – the 18-wheelers, box trucks, and landscapers’ rigs all but disappeared after 6, when there was a steady flow of passenger vehicles.
(Is there a political implication? One participant supporting the police cracked, “I hear a lot of pickup trucks but I’m still waiting for a Subaru.”)
The afternoon event featured a plethora of full-size U.S. flags, several with the blue stripe or the red stripe honoring police and firefighters, respectively. The rally for Black lives featured several smaller versions of the Stars and Stripes. As the afternoon event began, a couple of vendors with a wagonload of flags suitable for a President Trump rally showed up. Chase said he advised them that this as not a political event and he hoped their sales would reflect that.
Each gathering featured a wide range in age, although there were more younger children in the afternoon and a few more dogs after 6. Plenty of printed signs were available in the afternoon – “We thank and support our law enforcement officers” — and many had metal fixtures for later installation as lawn signs. Several folks brought homemade signs, including one on a paper plate.
The signs in support of Black lives were all handmade, and covered a range of issues: “Liberty and justice for all;” “Democracy is not a state. It is an act;” “Silence = violence;” Speak out for Justice.”
There were a few tense moments that quickly dissipated. A string of obscenities directed at the police rally from a passing car was met with a suggestion: “Call your social worker.” Later, pickup trucks festooned with flags circled the common a few times and were ignored by the evening demonstrators.
As the crowd grew around 4 o’clock, participants were bolstered by 10 pizzas delivered by an employee from Ken’s. Chase said he didn’t know who, if anyone, ordered the pies.
As dusk fell and temperatures cooled on Friday, Bailey led chants of the names of two victims of police violence as well as the familiar, “No justice, no peace.” He told the gathering that next week’s rally will be scheduled for 5:30 instead of 6, as the daylight hours shrink.
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