‘Back the Blue’ demonstrators hold Independence Day rally in Juneau

Bea Findlay leads a Back the Blue rally on Independence Day in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

More than 50 people gathered in downtown Juneau to march in support of local and national police on Independence Day. 

Many of them are part of a new group called Juneau Backs the Blue that formed via Facebook in the past few weeks. 

“There’s a group of us that just didn’t like how police are being treated across the country, we understand there’s a lot of conflict and racial things going on but we don’t think the whole — all the police needs to be blamed for that and we don’t want them defunded at all. If anything, we think they should have more resources, we don’t want to have to be protecting ourselves. We want them to protect us,” said one of the organizers, Lisa Idell-Sassi. 

Idell-Sassi and several others carrying banners and American flags gathered near the whale statue in Overstreet Park before marching through downtown. 

Former Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch helps guide dozens of people who marched through downtown.

Former mayor Ken Koelsch was there, carrying a bullhorn – giving marching instructions and helping to stop traffic as the group walked along Egan Drive. 

And, they got a lot of support from people in downtown. 

Longtime bandleader Bea Findlay helped lead the crowd.  Findlay, who is 81, says this was supposed to be her last parade leading the Juneau band. 

“And as it turns out, it will be but not in the way I thought,” she said.  

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the City and Borough of Juneau to cancel its official Independence Day celebration  — as did most other communities in Alaska. 

Findlay thinks it would have been her 17th year leading the band in Juneau’s parade.  But, this gathering means a lot to her too. 

“I love my country and I love the police department for what they do,” she said. 

Findlay says the rally was a grassroots effort, and it happened at the last minute. 

“We’re tired of all the anti-police, anti-America, anti-USA,” she said. And, she’s not sure how much anti-police sentiment is going around the Juneau community, but says she’s seen some of it on social media. “We need them.”

After the group walked through town, stopping in a few places to sing “God Bless America,” they gathered in a parking lot near the Douglas Bridge for a final farewell. 

More than 50 people gathered in Overstreet Park before marching through downtown in support of Juneau Backs the Blue on Saturday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Idell-Sassi said the new group plans to continue holding these types of rallies — a few of them have also stood along roadsides in town with signs supporting the police in recent weeks.

She said, the idea isn’t to be political or confrontational. “We just want to show them as much love and support as we can right now.”

She echoes Findlay in that neither of them thinks there’s a lot of anti-policing sentiment in Juneau.  But Idell-Sassi said she’s seen messaging about defunding the police and she doesn’t support it. 

“I just want them to have the resources and money that they need to do their job and keep the current staff on board,” she said. 

One thing she does support, is putting more money into social services rather than asking police officers to handle all of the public safety in town. 

“I definitely think that’s needed. I mean, there’s a lot of hurting people and there’s a lot of homelessness and there’s a lot of drug addicts and there’s people that need help – you know. We’re not trying to take away from that at all,” she said. 

Bea Findlay leads a Back the Blue rally on Independence Day, Saturday, July 4, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)