by Geoff Fox & Kate Shunney
A rain shower passed through Berkeley Springs with thunder and lightning last Friday, but skies cleared just as people gathered at Berkeley Springs State Park to attend a public event organizers called the Blue Lives Matter/All Lives Matter rally.
More than 50 people came together to stand at the corners of Washington Street and Fairfax Street, calling for support for police officers and promoting an “All Lives Matter” response to national events.
The event comes two weeks after a Black Lives Matter rally was held in the park to condemn racism and the killing of a Minneapolis man by police there.
Weeks of protesting and some violent confrontations have taken place nationwide, as cities and states debate the racial aspects of policing, historical symbols and public policy.
On Friday evening, June 19, groups of protestors stood on all four corners of the sidewalk with the majority gathered at the entrance to Berkeley Springs State Park.
As motorists passed on Washington Street, many blew horns, waved, and yelled in support. Tractor-trailer drivers also blew their horns, with some even giving a thumbs up from the cab.
Along the street, community members young and old held the American flag of all sizes with some holding the blue line American flag. Organizers had asked attendees to bring a flag.
Two officers from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department were on hand as were DNR officials and the Assistant State Park Supervisor.
Four individuals showing their support for Black Lives Matter stood across the street in front of BB&T holding signs.
Both sides traded “All Lives Matter” “Black Lives Matter” chants during the one-hour event.
There was an argument between one of the Black Lives Matter supporters and a Back the Blue supporter, but the tension didn’t escalate further and no police action was needed.
Berkeley Springs resident Tom Zahnow organized the event. He got the word out via an advertisement in this newspaper as well as through social media.
Zahnow himself was out front of the rally waving a large American flag on the corner and waving to people as they drove by.
“We need the police. Everybody needs them,” he said. “We might not like them all the time, but we all need police.”
Zahnow said with everything going on in the world, he thought it was time to show support for the police because they are needed and currently being harassed.
He said he thought it would be nice for a small town like Berkeley Springs to show the police do have the support. K. Parker of Unger attended the event.
“I went because I’m basically a conservative, a patriot,” she said afterward. “I just wanted to go and be a supporter.”
Parker said she doesn’t believe America is systematically racist.
“Maybe it was in the 50s,” she said.
During prior protests over the killing of black men by police in other places, Parker said she recalls saying in church that black lives matter, blue lives matter and all lives matter.
Following the rally, Parker said she saw counter-protestors leave in vehicles with out-of-state tags and thought they weren’t necessarily local.
Zahnow said the counter-protestors didn’t bother him and it was their right to be there.
Zahnow said it’s not skin color that matters. He said he has a son-in-law who is black and three grandsons who are black.
“It’s not about white or black, it’s about lives,” he said. “It’s about us, us as Americans.”
Zahnow said people might have lost their focus on what the United States is about, which is freedom. Police give people freedom, Zahnow said.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit them protesting over there,” Zahnow said.
There was question if the rally would be held because of the rain, but the clearing of the rain and the sun coming out, Zahnow said he was happy with the turnout
“I think what we have is great for a small town,” he said.
Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said as police officers, they were very appreciative of the support at the rally.
“Our position is all lives matter,” the sheriff said.
Because of a “few bad apples,” police are getting discriminated against, Bohrer said. He said those bad apples are not supported.
The state Sheriff’s Association issued a proclamation condemning the actions taken against George Floyd.
“There’s no one more offended by police misconduct than police officers,” Bohrer said.