This is Suffolk
A photo at the top of the Suffolk Police Department’s Facebook feed on Tuesday night summed up the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation that was the lasting image of Monday’s Black Lives Matter march along North Main Street.
In the photo, three Suffolk police officers, including Maj. Gerald Brandsasse, who has been filling the department’s top spot for the vacationing Chief Thomas Bennett, smile for a selfie with two black men, including LaTroy Brinkley, one of the organizers of Monday’s demonstration. “These are the faces of mutual respect and honor,” the police department’s post states. “Thank you to Mr. Godwin and Mr. Brinkley for promoting a safe and peaceful event.”
There was no hint of violence during the hour-long march. There were no threatening chants about police. In fact, those participating in the demonstration said prayers for the police and spoke highly of their work in this city.
The police department treated the marchers with similar respect, ushering them along North Main Street and into the intersection at Constance Road, where the group formed a circle, sang hymns, prayed and heard encouraging words from Domenick Epps and James Golden, two of the others involved in getting the word out and organizing the protesters.
After giving the group time to make its point at this busy intersection, a police officer walked up to Golden, whispered in his ear and then found himself encircled by citizens who lifted him up in prayer.
And then, the circle broke, and folks began walking along the southbound lanes of North Main Street, headed back to the place where they’d started, at the intersection with Market Street. The whole thing ended with another prayer that specifically thanked God for the Suffolk Police and asked Him to protect them.
There were no heavy-handed police tactics. There were no threats of arrest — much less actual ones. There was simply a respectful and genuine effort to allow the protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceful assembly and free speech, countered by the marchers’ respectful and genuine treatment of the officers who were there to serve and protect.
Only in the light of flickering television images showing the senseless carnage in Dallas or the frightening deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota last week would folks in Suffolk have expected or feared anything less than the respectful attitudes of Monday’s protesters or the professional comportment of the officers who were on hand.
This is Suffolk. We do things differently here. We might disagree, but we are family. Black, brown or white, we are brothers and sisters trying to live our lives. Whatever uniform we might wear at work, underneath those clothes, we are fathers and mothers worried about our sons’ and daughters’ futures.
This is not to say there are no problems or misunderstandings. This is not to say there are none who are not guided by hatred of others. Even Suffolk exists in a broken and sinful world. Even Suffolk has its murderers.
But we will not be defined by those small people. We will be defined by the great ones of all stations who choose to encircle those who are afraid and pray for them, to stand with those who are different and snap a smiling photo.
THIS is Suffolk.