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Hundreds march for police in Franklin Square

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Hundreds of Franklin Square residents waved American and “thin blue line” flags as they followed a pickup truck playing patriotic country music from the town parking lot on Sobo Avenue to the Sept. 11 memorial on Naple Avenue last Saturday, in the inaugural Franklin Square Backs the Blue walk.

“I didn’t think it would be this big,” said Marilena Cali, who held one end of a “Blue Lives Matter” flag while her friend Anne Licata held the other. They both said they decided to take part in the march — which was organized by volunteer firefighters Joe Block and Chris Howard — to show their support for family members who are police officers.

But the march wasn’t intended to be a protest or rally, the organizers told the Herald. “I would say it’s more on the lines of a spirit booster for them,” Howard said. “Just to let them know we still have their backs.”

In January, the organization Blue HELP, which focuses on police officers’ mental health, reported that 228 officers across the country died by suicide last year, up from 174 the year before. New York state had the highest share of police suicides, with 27.

“Coming together is really important right now,” State Assemblyman Ed Ra told the crowd before the walk, “because we need to show the men and women in law enforcement that they have our support.”

Nassau County was recently named the safest suburban community in America by U.S. News & World Report, Ra said, “thanks to the men and women of the Nassau County Police Department.” He noted that many Long Islanders work as police officers in New York City, where, Blue HELP reported, there were 10 police suicides last year.

Dave Franklin, a Republican from Port Washington who is seeking to unseat Anna Kaplan in the State Senate’s 7th District, said that police “need our help more than ever” after the Legislature passed laws in June to reform police departments — including a controversial bail-reform law and the repeal of Section 50-a of the State’s Civil Rights Law, which allowed law enforcement officers to refuse to disclose “personnel records used to evaluate performance” — and as some Americans are calling for police departments to be defunded.

“This is organized to take down America,” Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman said, and asked the crowd what his son in the Marine Corps is “fighting for, if we’re not supporting our cops?”

Many of those in attendance said that it is important for them to show their support for law enforcement, as anti-police rhetoric is on the rise. Gabi Stolz said that police officers “lay out their lives for us every day,” adding, “If they don’t support our neighborhoods, no one will.”

John Hunter, who joined the walk when he saw other residents gathering for it on his way home from work, said we should “honor the people who take care of us.” As a Vietnam veteran, Hunter added, he understands how difficult it can be for people to do their jobs when public sentiment is against them.

But Dennis McDonald, another Franklin Square resident who took part in the walk to show his support for his son-in-law, a corrections officer in New York City, said he thought it was “very unfortunate that the defunding movement is so misunderstood.” McDonald said he supported the idea of allocating more resources to services that help the homeless and mentally ill, so police would be unburdened by those calls.

“I know how hard it is for my son-in-law,” during these times, he said, adding that, while the criminal justice system needs to be made more “even and fair for all,” people should not be disrespectful to police officers who are just trying to do their jobs.

Ron Licciardi, who served in the New York City Police Department for 20 years and now runs a YouTube channel with over 19,500 subscribers on which he discusses policing issues, said he was “all for bringing bad cops to justice,” and that it was important for people to show their support of police officers to “give them encouragement to do the right thing.”

“It’s a hard job to do,” Licciardi said, recounting how, after the “Dirty Thirty” scandal in the early 1990s — in which 33 police officers were arrested on charges of robbery, extortion, civil rights violations, assault, narcotics distribution, grand larceny, tax evasion and perjury — some of his colleagues “took to alcohol.”

So, he said, he thought it was a “beautiful thing” that people from all corners of Franklin Square gathered to show their support for police, no matter what side of the political spectrum they were on. “This is a wholesome reminder that there are good people,” Licciardi said of the march, which ended with the gathering singing “God Bless America” in front of the Sept. 11 memorial.