2017-05-04 / Opinion

Aquidneck Island Blue Bloods


Rain or shine, this weekend we celebrate the men and women in blue, and honor the fallen. The Aquidneck Island National Police Parade, as it is officially tagged, gets underway at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, May 7, from the Hampton Inn and Suites on West Main Road in Middletown and makes its way down Broadway, ending at a review stand in Washington Square. Now in its 34th consecutive year, the parade draws law enforcement officers from around the country and Canada, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. With more than 100 marching units and 4,000 participants, floats, trucks, and bands, the event is an important one. It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country.

From year to year, its purpose is to honor those nationwide who have lost their lives in the line of duty. This year organizers count 144 on its annual list, a number considered “staggering.” Nearly half of those deaths were gun-related.

We are incredibly fortunate, on this island, not to be counting one of the fallen in our ranks. Despite the parade’s somber undertones, the parade is also a reminder that there is much to celebrate.

One can’t help but notice that, for every bad cop story on the nightly news, two follow about the genuinely good ones who step up and proactively reach out to the community. That proactive culture has been in place in Newport for quite some time.

Last July, in the wake of a horrific week which included two police killings of unarmed black men and the ambush killings in Dallas of five policemen, a group of local activists organized “A Peaceful Assembly for Awareness and Change” in Washington Square. The turnout was substantial and surprisingly – encouragingly – diverse. Organizers stressed that the event was a call for peace and working together.

The police were there: at least a dozen chatting, talking to parents and children. While not quite a lovefest, the message was clear. We are here, we care, we are all a part of this.

“We believe policing is a grass roots effort,” Newport Police Chief Gary Silva told NTW reporter Olga Enger that day. “It’s keeping the conversation going, including events like these. It’s about connecting on a personal level, putting a face to a name.” The department was the first in the state to implement a community police department, which has received national acclaim for its approach to problem solving and serves as a model for other departments.

Last summer, the unit engaged with local children, sponsoring a geocaching event in Miantonomi Park, a "Cops & Bobbers" fishing event, and a surf camp.

There is more: Early last winter, after a series of racial incidents (schoolyard bullying and outbursts in local stores) a group organized a series of workshops, led by community activists and school administrators. The head of the community policing department was there, but not in uniform.

A brief history lesson: the parade began in East Providence in the 1960s, as the National Police Week parade. It was discontinued and revived in the early 1970s and moved to Aquidneck Island. It was twice discontinued, and twice revived. Local participants include the Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth departments, the Rhode Island State Police barracks in Portsmouth, the Naval Station Newport Police, and Newport’s own Ancient Order of Hibernian’s Pipes & Drums Band.

Other notable marching units include; the Boston Police Gaelic Column, the Boy Scouts of America Marching Band, and the New York Police Department’s world renowned brass band.

So while we gather to acknowledge a national sacrifice, Sunday’s parade is also an opportunity for those of us in the Aquidneck Island community to celebrate our local blue bloods, and to let them know that the job they do is respected, and appreciated.

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