Story by Katie Bisaro
Several months ago, a single blue line was painted down Railroad Ave. in the Village of Warwick as a recognized symbol of support for police officers.
In recent days, a petition was started on Change.org by “Residents of Warwick” calling for Mayor Michael Newhard to add colored lines that represent and support other groups such as firefighters, teachers, farmers, public workers and elected officials. Alternatively, the petition asked the Mayor to remove the line altogether. As of Monday night, 245 people had signed the petition.
In response, a second petition began to circulate on Change.org, put forth by resident Jason Wendell, to keep the blue line as a show of continued support for police officers. Over 860 signatures were gathered in support of this petition.
Both groups encouraged attendance at the Village of Warwick Board of Trustees meeting on Mon., Dec. 5.
On Monday, just hours before the Village Board meeting, a red line and white line were added to the blue one. According to a Village of Warwick Facebook post, the red and white lines were added to “represent all of us as Americans; every race, creed and gender… [and to] stand for liberty, democracy, justice and freedom of civil right and expression.”
Village Board Meeting Packed
It was standing room only at the Village Board meeting that evening as those in attendance spilled into the vestibule of Village Hall.
Though it was a regular business meeting of the Board of Trustees, Mayor Michael Newhard addressed the gathered crowd, explaining the addition of the red and white lines and then allowed several from both sides of the issue to speak for over an hour.
According to Newhard, the blue line was not intended to malign or discredit anybody, but to give credit to police officers.
“Maybe because we [the Village Board] are in the trenches of serving the public, we see how they serve the public as well…it’s not an easy job, that’s what we wanted to remind people of,” said Newhard.
On the other hand, Newhard continued, due to national attention to the issue, “there’s more potentially to it [the blue line] than we thought.”
Newhard apologized to those who were offended by the change in the line on Railroad Ave. and reiterated that the intent was to be more inclusive and was done out of respect.
Comments from the large crowd were at times emotional and impassioned and while statements from both sides of the issue included support for the police department, each group was alternately applauded or jeered for their positions.
Joanne Dobbins, who described herself as the “proud mother” of a son who is a police officer for the NYPD, spoke in support of the blue line and her disappointment in the addition of the red and white lines. After outlining the many difficult duties of police officers, and the circumstances in which they perform those duties, she challenged those who would criticize to help an officer rather than video-taping or to apply for openings on the force.
“Mr. Mayor, I am ashamed of what you did today…you disrespected the Warwick PD and all of the police officers living here,” said Dobbins said in a statement that was met with cheers and applause from many in the crowd.
Jim Morley spoke in opposition to the blue line, despite his respect for police officers, reiterating many points he made in a Letter to the Editor of that was published in the Warwick Advertiser and his support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When you have a symbol [referring to the blue line] that is ambiguous and perceived in different ways, that causes problems,” stated Morley.
A suggestion was made by Danielle Barbour, to perhaps commission a mural that honors all who serve Warwick including the police, fire department, and teachers. She has spoken to Sgt. Ed Mullins, President of the Warwick Police Dept. PBA, and he is in support of that idea. Barbour, who signed both petitions, commented that she wants to see the community come together.
Jason Wendell thanked the nearly 900 people who signed his petition to keep the blue line. He spoke at length in support of police officers and his skepticism of the movements that vilify law enforcement. He proposed putting the issue to a community vote as to whether or not to change back to the blue line.
Warwick Valley H.S. junior Steven Mehling, 16, also spoke in support of the police and the blue line, but also pointed out that it is a “Warwick issue,” not a national issue. “It’s one line, on a tiny avenue,” he said.
Mehling ended his remarks stating, “I think we should be doing more for our police officers who put their lives on the line every day for this community.”
Many of those in attendance expressed their concern over the divisiveness the issue has caused in the community. Others questioned the timing of painting new lines, characterizing the move as “caving in” and a “betrayal.” Additionally, it was pointed out, that both the blue line and then the red and white lines were put down without any input from the community.
As is most often the case these days, the issue also played itself out on social media. There was a great deal of commentary on the Village’s Facebook page, which posted a picture of the new red, white and blue line.
Some comments were more light-hearted in nature, pointing out that, regardless of what they represent, the lines are less than straight. Most, however, took one side of the issue or the other with varying degrees of civility.
The Village Board of Trustees resumed their regular board meeting after an hour of public commentary on the blue line issue. The crowd continued their discussions outside Village Hall, sometimes heated enough to be heard inside during the meeting.
By the end of the regular meeting at 9:20 p.m., there were a few stragglers quietly conversing outside Village Hall.
The only commentary from the Board of Trustees on this issue came at the end of the meeting. Trustee George McManus commented that he was not informed about the change in the colors being painted on Railroad Ave. and he would have been opposed had he been asked.