METHUEN — What was billed as a rolling car rally to support local police in Dracut and Methuen on Wednesday evening is now being criticized because of signs and slogans pasted on cars and trucks saying “Build a Wall,” “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
Police Chief Joseph Solomon put out a statement Friday that the department helped coordinate traffic for the event but had nothing to do with organizing it. He also disavowed some of the slogans photographed on some of the cars and trucks.
“The Methuen Police Department does not avow itself to the misguided doctrine of ‘all lives matter,’” he said. “And we denounce the statement ‘build the wall’ as it is a clear attack on immigrant families. The Methuen Police Department does not concern itself with a person’s immigration status when it responds to save a life or stop a crime in progress.”
Nonetheless, the event, and the police and city’s response to it, has ignited a firestorm on social media, with hundreds of comments on Facebook and thousands on the department’s Instagram account.
Many of the comments are critical of the department, calling it racist, among other things.
The Facebook post had a picture of a truck with an enormous sign on the side saying, “All Lives Matter,” while the Instagram post had a picture of a poster on a car saying, “Blue Lives Matter.”
The rolling rally comes on the heels of a peaceful “Black Lives Matter” demonstration held last weekend that was attended by hundreds of people, including Mayor Neil Perry.
At a city-sponsored forum on racism held Thursday — the day after the rolling rally — speakers lambasted the Police Department for what looked like an endorsement of racist rhetoric.
“Just when I didn’t think Methuen could get any worse or more ignorant, there is a rally in the streets, saying ‘Build a Wall,’” said Bronwyn Crocker, one of about a dozen audience members who spoke at the event. “Are you kidding me?”
Another speaker, Kelsey Shibilia, also lashed out at police for giving the impression the department somehow endorsed some of the rhetoric on display during the rolling rally.
“Having this rally for police, with MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) signs, and ‘Build the Wall,’ and ‘All Lives Matter,’ it is racist,” she said. “Our Police Department publicly thanked them. They had Facebook postings thanking people for how wonderful the rally was. That is racism.”
Based on Facebook posts, the pro-police car parade appears to have been originally organized by John Zimini, a former Dracut selectman.
He can be seen on a video leading the parade, honking his horn and whooping it up as he drove through Methuen and Dracut. Zimini did not return a message for comment.
According to Tom Duggan, publisher of the Valley Patriot and one of the organizers of the event, the parade was merely a way to thank the police “for putting their lives on the line every day of the week.”
He said he called Solomon just before the parade set off from Dracut with a convoy of vehicles estimated at anywhere from 25 to 100.
Solomon, he said, promised to have a couple of cruisers stationed outside the Police Department as the convoy passed.
“I said, ‘Have a couple guys out there waving, so you guys know we were there,’” Duggan said. “There were two cars with lights going and three or four people outside waving and taking pictures, including a couple of civilians.”
He said the rally “had nothing to do with racism.”
“A bunch of people got worked up because somebody in our caravan had a Trump sign on their truck,” Duggan said. “One truck out of the 100 vehicles we had a Trump sign, a bunch of flags, and slogans. If you get upset about a Trump sign, maybe look at your own side, burning down buildings and toppling statues.”
Solomon said in his statement that after the event he learned there were signs and slogans that weren’t commensurate with the values of the department.
“The rolling rally lasted approximately two minutes and drove by our police station without incident,” he wrote in his statement, which also appeared on the department’s Facebook page. “No one from the event stopped at the Police Department.
“After the event, the department was made aware that one of the vehicles in the rally was adorned with several politically charged signs. The association of this vehicle and the rally with the Police Department has led to understandable anger from several residents,” he stated.
“The Methuen Police Department does not associate itself with or endorse politically charged or divisive language,” he continued.
“We are disappointed that what the organizers told the department was intended to be a positive, community-building message of support for the members of the department was instead overshadowed.”