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‘Back the Blue’ or police reform? Dueling rallies cover both sides of debate

Rally for police in Roanoke and civil rights march in Lynchburg happened at the same time

ROANOKE/LYNCHBURG, Va. – If the Fourth of July celebrated the red, white and blue, the Fifth of July focused on black and blue thanks to two opposing events.

A “Back the Blue” rally in support of police congregated at Roanoke’s Veterans Memorial Sunday afternoon. At the same time, a “march to end civil injustice” trekked through Lynchburg.

Rick Arrington, a former Roanoke City Police officer, organized the rally for law enforcement.

“We love them, we support them, and they’re our guardians and protectors,” Arrington said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

The civil rights march was put together by lifelong Amherst County resident Justina Sandidge.

“We keep seeing victims of police brutality, we keep seeing the cops go free, and we keep seeing black lives taken in cold blood,” Sandidge said. “It’s not okay.”

The rallies were extreme opposites when it comes to the issue of police reform. Attendees at the Back the Blue rally, including recently retired Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones, strongly opposed any decrease in police budgets.

“Some cry out that they don’t need the police,” Jones said. “If we continue down this path, the Commonwealth will decline and this country will decline.”

At the other event, marchers such as Michael McMillan believe George Floyd’s death by police is a reason to take a harder look at the system.

“I’m for defunding the police,” McMillan said. “I’m for the community keeping the community safe. I’m for holding officers accountable.”

Although the two rallies were far apart in both distance and ideology, both organizers condemned the officer that killed Floyd.

“I had no words to describe that,” Sandidge said. “It was repulsive and disgusting.”

“That officer as an individual, he brought shame on the blue,” Arrington said.