Fresnan Eric Dougherty wanted to organize a rally to support law enforcement officers. He expected 20 people would show up with signs at Blackstone and Shaw avenues, where many rallies and protests in the city start.
But when so many people committed to attending the Light Up the Night for the Thin Blue Line rally that concerns were raised on its Facebook page about traffic being blocked, it was moved to Woodward Park and also expanded. People volunteered time, money and connections to bring in a live band, a bounce house, face painting, food trucks and a SWAT bus.
The rally, scheduled for 5 p.m. in the Shakespeare in the Park area, comes after police officer deaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. People will have the chance to meet with California Highway Patrol officers, Fresno and Clovis police officers and correctional officers. Lady and the Tramps, the unofficial rock band of the Fresno Police Department – which includes current and retired officers – will provide live music.
“What we have accomplished far exceeds my initial plans for this rally,” Dougherty said. But, he added, the goal of showing support for law enforcement officials has stayed the same. He said he never wanted it to be about rallying in one of the city’s busiest intersections.
It’s high time we give them some thanks and recognition.
Event sponsor Todd Cook
That’s how others feel as well. Dougherty said the event grew due to the efforts of volunteers who wish to remain in the background.
“It makes me feel extremely humbled and proud that we have reached this level of involvement, from the community and from all of our citizens who have come forward to donate their time and resources to help make this a truly positive, family-oriented community event,” Dougherty said. He noted that though he dealt with a few negative posts on the Facebook page, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
For Alex Tavlian, a contact for the rally and publisher of the Central Valley Observer, the name rally doesn’t fit anymore.
“We call it a rally but there’s not really a good description,” Tavlian said. “We want to show an appreciation for the people who go out every day and sacrifice. We want people to be able to engage with them.”
Tavlian said many people don’t know what goes into policing the community, so the rally is a good opportunity for people to build relationships with officers and learn what they go through every day. Ultimately, the goal is to reconcile the experiences of community members with those of local law enforcement officers.
If Todd Cook, one of the event’s sponsors, could rename the event, he’d call it “Law Enforcement Appreciation and Awareness Day.” Cook said he’s an ardent supporter of Fresno’s first responders. When he heard about the chance to be involved, he jumped at it.
“They have a thankless job that is incredibly hard and open to criticism,” Cook said of police officers. “It’s high time we give them some thanks and recognition.”
For Saturday’s event, he has one hope.
“It’s my hope that with more interaction and team-building a greater awareness of the critical role that officers play in our society is brought to the forefront of the community,” Cook said. “The police are people, too. They just go to work every day in a job that puts their life on the line. It’s a successful day for them if they come home.”
When they feel appreciated they become better public servants.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said this event is refreshing because the majority of people in Fresno support police but either don’t know how to show it or don’t voice it. He said many have brought pastries to departments and headquarters, church members have prayed at the buildings and some have purchased officers’ orders at Starbucks and restaurants – but wanted to do more.
“It was a pleasant surprise that it came together so fast and there was so much interest,” Dyer said. “Fresno is a great place to be a police officer in terms of community support.”
Dyer said officers feel a lot of pressure when they’re thrust into situations where they need to make quick decisions while under scrutiny from onlookers. That pressure, along with nationwide protests and the threat of being killed, add up to a heavy burden officers are carrying.
“Events like this counter that negativity and give them a balanced perspective,” Dyer said. “When they feel appreciated they become better public servants.”
Dyer hopes more events in the future have the same goal: Supporting law enforcement without putting any other group of people down.
Dougherty thinks it’s likely that Dyer’s hopes will be fulfilled.
“People are very supportive of this rally, and more than a few have suggested we make this a yearly event,” Dougherty said. “We will definitely take this under consideration – my plans for supporting law enforcement definitely do not end with the culmination of this event.”
Light Up the Night for the Thin Blue Line rally
What: Get to know law enforcement officials and enjoy food trucks, bounce houses, face painting, a live band and a SWAT bus
When: Saturday, July 30 at 5 p.m.
Where: Shakespeare in the Park area of Woodward Park near Highway 41 and Friant Road