We Back the Badge rally salutes local law enforcement

Dozens of marchers showed support for local law enforcement in Flushing on Aug. 27. Photo by Ben Gagnon

Dozens of marchers showed support for local law enforcement in Flushing on Aug. 27. Photo by Ben Gagnon

FLUSHING — Flushing residents showed appreciation for their local police department by holding the 2nd Annual We Back the Badge rally at Riverview Park on Aug. 27.

As with last year’s event, attendees in the 2021 rally partook in patriotic songs, listened to speeches and participated in a brief march through the park and downtown Flushing. Speakers at the rally included retired Lt. Jeff Neville from the Flint Bishop Airport Police Department, Flushing Police Chief Mark Hoornstra, Flushing Mayor Joseph Karlichek, 7th District Genesee County Commissioner Meredith Davis, State Rep. Mike Mueller and State Sen. Ken Horn.

Davis (R-Flushing) said that cities like Flushing have benefited from having lower crime rates thanks to the dedication of local law enforcement.

“Sometimes people compare our community to a ‘bubble,’” she said. “I feel like it is, because we can still go to the park and our kids can roam, ride their bikes and go get ice cream and feel safe. That’s because of the people (in law enforcement) who have made sacrifices.

“However, after listening to stories about what our police officers go through, it’s very clear that we don’t live in a bubble,” Davis continued. “There are bad guys everywhere. But the police officers do two things: they serve and protect. They put their life on the line to make us sleep well at night so we can raise our families here and feel comfortable every single day.”

Neville, who served at Flint Bishop International Airport for 17 years, is one such officer who’s put his life on the line while on duty. On June 21, 2017, Neville was attacked at the airport by a terrorist who had entered the country from Canada to kill American law enforcement personnel. Amor Ftouhi, a Tunisian who had emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, assaulted Neville from behind and repeatedly stabbed him in the neck, missing Neville’s carotid artery by millimeters.

Despite losing a lot of blood, Neville restrained and apprehended Ftouhi with the help of an airport maintenance worker. Neville managed to survive the attack but dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath, which he said influenced his decision to retire from the airport in 2019. He now works as a realtor in Grand Blanc.

Over time, Neville said that support from family, friends and colleagues got him through the difficult times after the attack. He urged attendees at the rally to be sensitive to the everyday challenges that officers face, particularly those who have been impacted by life-threatening situations in the line of duty.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), over 230 police officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide thus far in 2021. Additionally, over 1,000 officers have committed suicide since 2016, as stated by police advocacy group Blue H.E.L.P.

Hoornstra, who’s spent 40 years in law enforcement, said that many officers face difficult and tragic circumstances that weigh on their well-being.

“Officers are put in positions where they have to take care of all of society’s problems,” he said. “They have to deal with babies who have died, children who have been sexually assaulted, people who have committed suicide. We talk about the dangers and threats of violence against the officers, but these are the things that really take a toll on them.”

Mueller (R-Linden), a retired Livingston County Sheriff’s deputy, also touched on the importance of having mental health support for police.

“With the number of police officers who kill themselves outnumbering those who die in the line of duty each year, you know we have a problem,” he said. “There was a point where I myself almost was a statistic. I was dealing with the weight of being involved in an officer-involved shooting, coupled with all the traumatic scenes and the everyday stresses of the job. I would not be standing here today if it wasn’t for the proactive actions of my department.”

Mueller said he is working on legislation that will help to fund mental health programs for officers, while also attracting new talent to police departments and strengthening relationships between police and communities.