Letter: Shameful and divisive, ‘Citizens’ deny police racism exists

Posted 7/10/20

This year’s Fourth of July began under a cloud on Friday, as an event billed as honoring First Responders was exposed for what it was — a divisive, political propaganda event. This time …

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Letter: Shameful and divisive, ‘Citizens’ deny police racism exists

Posted

This year’s Fourth of July began under a cloud on Friday, as an event billed as honoring First Responders was exposed for what it was — a divisive, political propaganda event. This time of year, we should all be able to come together and be a single America — to enjoy our freedom with “liberty and justice for all” in our patriotic town.

As a Bristol resident, I was disappointed to see that the Bristol Town Council supported Bristol County Concerned Citizens’ request to hold this event. It made even less sense after I learned that this Bristol Fourth of July Parade was already dedicated to honoring our First Responders.

There was, however, a true Profile in Courage, as military service active duty veteran and Town Councilor Aaron Ley passionately spoke in favor of raising the flag at a more appropriate time, so that First Responders would not be used as pawns by a nascent political movement in a divisive manner. He was the only member who was against.

The Phoenix report on BCCC’s event was fair, accurate and well-written, unlike other news agencies who mischaracterized the event. I would like to add, for the record, my personal experience while I was there.

Some BCCC supporters came wearing slogans that support the most divisive rhetoric that can be found on right-wing media: Trump MAGA hats, a t-shirt emblazoned with hate speech such as “Sheep Kneel, Patriots Stand,” and a thin red and blue flag, a symbol that has caused strife throughout the nation during the protests against the murder of George Floyd by police. That flag has been used at Unite the Right and white supremacist rallies. Its display is meant to be controversial and provoking. It has been banned for use by many police organizations across the country.

Black Lives Matters (BLM) supporters were heckled during the ceremony. An older BCCC supporter aggressively called insulting remarks to a woman who stood in solidarity with the peaceful BLM group, baiting her into an upsetting argument to defend herself.

Mike Byrnes, leader of BCCC, made it a point to defend police against any criticism, claiming they are “under siege.”

This did not honor first responders. It used them. It was shameful. It was a sham.

Meanwhile, a week earlier, Bristol Police Chief Kevin Lynch signed onto the statewide police effort to launch a campaign called “Twenty for 2020,” which is meant to “show – not simply tell – our residents and community members that we take racism and police brutality seriously and are committed to ending both in our profession,” as stated by Chief Sidney Wordwell, executive director of Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association.

This step honors James Baldwin’s words: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Our police are facing racism in their ranks. Unfortunately, BCCC, who claims to honor police, continues to deny it.

Marianne Bergenholtz
Bristol

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.