MALONE –– The weekend before the Fourth of July was a perfect time to honor those who keep the United States “the best country on the planet,” the organizer of a rally on Malone’s Arsenal Green said Saturday.

Despite the problems facing the U.S., “We’re not that bad, I don’t think,” rally organizer Michael Fournier said as he and about three dozen others gathered in the park under threatening skies Saturday morning. If the U.S. was as bad as some claim, why would there be one or two million people “breaking in” to the country each year? he asked.

Although many of the participants wore regalia showing their support for President Donald Trump, Fournier said the rally was not a political event. Had anyone brought a banner supporting former Vice President Joe Biden –– Trump’s opponent in the November election –– he or she would have been welcome to hang it next to the Trump banner on the park’s gazebo, he said.

Rally-goers also displayed modified American flags with either a blue stripe –– showing support for law enforcement –– or a red stripe –– showing support for first responders. Several vehicles that drove by the event blowing their horns also displayed those flags.

Participants also briefly chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A.” and “America,” but most of the activity at the event was small groups of people sharing their sentiments.

Fournier also emphatically denied that the rally was any sort of response to several demonstrations held locally and nationally protesting the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, despite Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breath, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This has nothing to do with race –– not a damn thing to do with race,” Fournier said, noting that the event had been planned roughly two months before Floyd’s death. Fournier also pointed out that the event was the third such rally he has put together over the years.

“Not everybody hates the police,” he said.

Among those at the event was local disability rights activist Chris Hastings, who displayed a sign saying “Police Are Not Social Workers.”

“I support the police,” Hastings said, but acknowledged some police tactics and practices need to be changed.

Only a handful of people at the rally wore face masks or practiced social distancing. Fournier said those safety measures were optional and noted that many of those who participated in the recent protests across the country had not worn masks nor maintaining the recommended 6-foot distance.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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