“Would you like a ribbon?” a protester in front of Old Main on Friday asked, holding out a little twist of black and blue cloth.
The protester and the ribbons were there for the same reason — to show support for law-enforcement officials.
It was an event organized by just two people, Cassie Cigich and Dustin Neumann, but the Rally in Solidarity for Law Enforcement drew about three dozen people to the front of Penn State’s iconic administration building in bitter cold weather.
It was quiet and calm.
Cigich and Neumann are emergency medical technicians, people who work with law enforcement on a regular basis.
“We know what they do,” Cigich said. She should. She grew up with a state trooper for a dad.
“I know a lot of people think this is in response to last week’s protests, but they are not a direct response,” she said.
“Die-in” events held in buildings all over campus last week drew lots of attention, especially when one was staged in the same spot by the Old Main steps. President Eric Barron came out for that protest and was photographed with his hands up in the gesture that has come to be shorthand for the Ferguson, Mo.-inspired protest movement that grew out of the death of Michael Brown.
More protests grew after the officer involved in Brown’s shooting and, later, another officer in the Staten Island death of Eric Garner, were not indicted.
“This is a response to Ferguson and New York,” Cigich said.
Jim Jacobs, the pastor of two United Methodist congregations, is a native of Ferguson, Mo., and says Cigich has been part of his church since she was a little girl. He watches accounts of the protests there and says, “That’s not my town. There is 2 percent making the masses look bad.”
He thinks the Garner case was mishandled, but says that if Brown’s hands had been up in that now-famous gesture, “he’d still be alive.”
“I support law enforcement. I think they’re getting a bad rap,” Jacobs said.
Tim Winters agrees. The Clearfield Borough Council member and Penn State alumnus attended the event to show where he stands.
“I’d like to see more people supporting,” he said. “Law enforcement is taking a beating. Ninety-nine percent of them are doing their job and doing it well.”
But for one counter-protester, it’s that other 1 percent that is the issue.
Mat Brener stood silently at the edge of the crowd, his hands raised.
“I believe that, while there are a lot of good law enforcement out there, a lot of good cops stand by idly while bad cops violate people’s rights,” he said.
At least three officers were standing by in the cold, including university Police Chief Tyrone Parham. He declined to comment on the event, saying he was not one of the organizers and that he had not commented on the Black Lives Matter events last week.
For Jolie Stuart-Davis, a third-year law student and a member of Young Americans for Freedom, the show of support was important, but so was the show of fairness.
“All groups deserve free speech,” she said.
Barron, who has faced harsh criticism, including a call from a state legislator to apologize or resign for his part in last week’s event, was not present. Cigich said she was told the president was out of town, but that he supported the student protesters.