Dueling rallies Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, told the tale of at least two Arlingtons.
The main face-off was at Town Hall Plaza and across the street, with a separate rally at Whittemore Park, whose participants later walked over to the main protest site and increased the numbers opposite Town Hall.
The public duel was over police -- who supported them and who didn't -- as such rallies portray complex events in broad outlines. The duel was also about racism in the context of a national debate about who oversees police following violent events against people of color in Minneapolis, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Crowd estimates, residents
Among the 200 or so estimated total participants on all sides -- the numbers were hard to gauge -- viewpoints were likely more nuanced than the two hours of raised voices. While two sponsoring organizations were from out of town, the majority of rallygoers appeared to be from Arlington. Police and participants reported no violent incidents. Most involved wore masks, but there was little social distancing.
Involved in staging the events were America Backs the Blue, a nonprofit based in Abington, with a local cheerleader, Elizabeth Pedrini of Woburn, wife of Arlington officer Robert Pedrini. Its supporters were at Town Hall Plaza, vocally backing police, as town Chief Julie Flaherty stood among them under a Black Lives Matter banner.
Across the street were opponents with signs calling to defund police. They were supposed to be part of Solidarity Against Hate, a Boston group, but YourArlington identified no members.
And about two blocks away, at Whittemore Park, was an active group brought together by Arlington Fights Racism, which has called for firing officer Richard Pedrini, whose inflammatory published comments in 2018 have roiled some in town ever since.
Different locations, different age groups
Here are brief looks at the three locations.
Orange barricades lined both sides of Mass. Ave., and so did a strong police presence, as a hard shower fell at about 4 p.m. Even so, the groups on both sides grew.
Some differences were clear. Many of those at Town Hall Plaza were age 50 and older. Across the street, those from teens to upper 20s predominated.
At the plaza, participants pointed to a large number of town residents. Opposite them, Nate Goldshlag of Arlington, older than most of those around him, handed out flyers. Younger sign holders said they were from Arlington and Medford.
Solidarity Against Hate's Facebook group describes it as a "coalition of community groups and individuals who have been mobilizing against fascist organizing in Boston since 2017," adding, "We believe yesterday’s anti-Back the Blue demonstration was a success. While we did not significantly outnumber the BTB [Back the Blue] rallyers, we made them feel unwelcome and foolish. Their side continually tried to start scuffles with our side and we were able to deescalate them into backing down. A big thank you to Arlington Fights Racism for organizing locally; we hope to work together again in the future."
It is worth noting that America Backs the Blue of Abington disavows any connection to Back the Blue -- a group that Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine condemned earlier in the week as racist.
In front of Swanson Jewelers, youthful voices offered many chants, including "No justice, no peace" and "No KKK, no racist U.S.A." Those at the plaza sometimes answered.
The music playing at the plaza provided one clear contrast: Bobby Darin's 1959 hit "Beyond the Sea." It sounded pro-nostalgia, though a sea of American flags did wave. Some of the flags were striped with one blue line, whose history you can read about here >>
“That thin blue line, that’s the line between law and order and chaos,” Arlington firefighter Capt. Chip Ryan told Fox 25. “Our police keep us safe.” He is the brother of Fred Ryan, the former police chief.
Arlington resident Joyce Radochia, who told WBUR that she is "not a rally person," said she came out with her husband, Bob. "because it was time" to support law enforcement. "They're not always in the right, but they're not always in the wrong," she said.
Horns sounded from passing trucks, but it was unclear for whom they blew.
On Friday, Sept. 11, Chapdelaine sent this memo to the Arlington Police Department. It addressed one of the grievances that America Backs the Blue said led to the rally -- that "the APD has received absolutely no support from the town over the past few months”:
"I am writing today to express my most sincere thanks and appreciation for your commendable efforts in the face of very difficult circumstances yesterday. From what I have heard and observed, you all dispatched your duties with the professionalism and care that has long been the hallmark of the Arlington Police Department. Without question, you all highlighted the value that you provide as members of the Arlington community.
"I also understand that some of you were subjected to both verbal and physical attacks and while I am very sorry to hear that this happened, I am also proud to know that you maintained your professionalism and integrity in the face of these assaults.
"I am proud of the Arlington Police Department in good times and bad, and you showed the whole community yesterday that you are more than deserving of that pride. I want you all to know that I support you and the work that you do and I appreciate all that you do to keep Arlington safe."
Sept. 9, 2020: Officer's wife says Town Hall rally supports police
This news summary was published Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
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