JACKSON – A black-and-white American flag with a centered blue stripe rose above the gathered crowd Sunday to show support for local police funding. A few dozen people stood on the corner of Town Square, backdropped with “Trump 2020” banners, waving signs to energize passing pedestrians and drivers.
The response from passersby was mostly positive. License plates from Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, New York and California drove by, and some passengers and drivers waved, honked horns and flashed MAGA hats through the sunroofs of their cars.
While the response to the rally was mostly positive, some cars rolled by with middle fingers wagging out of windows and voices shouting curses at the group.
Event coordinator Michael Humphrey said the people shouting “fascist,” “racists” and “screw you” out of their windows were merely contributing to the growing polarization in America.
“They don’t want to listen to [the] other side, talk or have a dialogue about it,” Humphrey said.
According to Humphrey the police budget decreased at the beginning of this year, and he — along with the rest of the crowd — didn’t want to see any further budget reduction. In approving the town budget earlier this year, the Town Council cut department budgets across the board in anticipation of lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the voices supporting funds for the police seemed mixed with those voicing support for President Donald Trump’s reelection, attendee Robert Wachter explained the connection.
“If you’re a Trump supporter, you are also a police supporter,” he said. “You’re a law-and-order individual.”
Disheartened by the resignation of Lt. Roger Schultz in August, after Schultz made what many believed was an inappropriate joke on social media regarding police responding to a reported statutory rape, Wachter said taking funds away from the police would bring Americans one step closer to anarchy.
“I wish [policemen] didn’t have to be armed but, unfortunately, there are a lot of criminals out there that dictate that they are armed,” Wachter said.
Unlike Wachter, who directly correlates support for President Trump with police support, Suzy Dawson came to share her message that mistakes people make need forgiveness, not harsh punishments.
“We’re dehumanizing each other,” Dawson said of Schultz’s situation. “There’s nobody that’s perfect, and so, for me, this is about this officer who was wrongly forced out of a situation.”
Referring to Schultz’s resignation, Dawson commemorated him as a professional who previously turned in other officers for abuse of power and labeled him a “good guy.”
Attendee Robert Benedict came with his wife and daughter to educate others about the Jackson Police Department. He stood at the edge of the corner, holding a sign in each hand: “We need leaders. Vote out Muldoon and Macker,” said one, referring to Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon and Teton County Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Natalia Macker. The other read “Cops work for a cause, not applause.”
Benedict did a full-shift ride-along with a Jackson police officer and said he left feeling “amazed” and “impressed.”
He said, “Every incident, they’re going back, they’re debriefing, they’re thinking ‘OK, what happened? How do we do it better? What’s the law on this?’ ”
Benedict argued that Mayor Muldoon wants to reduce the number of armed officers without understanding the full scope of situations to which police respond. Benedict said that all elected officials should go on a ride-along to understand exactly what a day looks like for a Jackson police officer.
Aside from people’s reasons for attending the event, there were differing opinions on what the term “defund the police” actually means. For Humphrey, it’s exactly that.
“They’re going to shrink their departments by taking money from them,” he said.
While he noted that Jackson’s crime rates remain relatively low compared to bigger cities, Humphrey said reducing police funds in larger states has cut into spending for special crime units that handle sex trafficking, murder and abduction cases the most.
However, bystander John Krivy, who was visiting from New York, said there might be a misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the term. Krivy said that while “defund the police” sounds like government is taking funds away from the department, he looks at it as a reallocation of funds throughout the department to help them respond to situations more effectively.
In response to the alternative definition, Humphrey said, “Great! Add it. Don’t defer funds, add funds and bring [social workers and new departments] aboard because that is a good idea.”
With Jackson’s population growing every year, Humphrey said it doesn’t make sense to reduce police funding to please protestors focused on law enforcement’s abuse of power.
“Everybody on Earth agrees that Black lives matter — all lives matter,” he said. “Everybody agrees that the way George Floyd was killed was bulls--t. Guess what happened? They were prosecuted and sent to jail. Good cops don’t support bad cops.”