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Asheville’s ‘Back the Blue’ organizer astonished by turnout

Over a thousand people gather for Saturday's Back the Blue parade which stretched for three miles, as it entered downtown Asheville.
Over a thousand people gather for Saturday’s Back the Blue parade which stretched for three miles, as it entered downtown Asheville.

By Clint Parker

Asheville – Ed Browne never thought his effort to support law enforcement would turn into as big an event as it did Saturday, August 1, but it did.

“Three weeks ago, I saw a T-shirt my son in law had given me that stated, ‘Shut your mouth, run your city.’ Six words inspired me to create an event to show support for our local law enforcement agencies,” he told the Tribune Papers. “As a disabled veteran and concerned citizen, I created the event on Facebook and posted it to several different sites locally to get people to stand up, put the keyboard down and do something that could change the dynamics and morale of our local law enforcement agencies. A few days passed and the event was being circulated and was gaining support on a viral scale locally.”

Browne started assembling the team that made the “Back the Blue” (not to be confused with the national group which Browne said his event has no affiliation with) event happen. “Thank You to the following for their time, efforts, ideas and suggestions: Brent Hayner, Mark Hayner, Sherry Shannon, Sanjit Patel, Sandra Ingle, Celia Croff, Brian Ingle, and many more. The team worked tirelessly to plan, route, gather information, evaluate safety, disseminate information and plan again. Thank You for supporting such a wonderful event.”

According to eyewitnesses, about 300 bikers and about the same or more people in cars and trucks took part in the parade that started at the Ingles parking lot in Swannanoa and headed into Asheville to Pack Square and back.

Not happy with Asheville City and news coverage

Browne said he is concerned with the way his event was handled not only by the City of Asheville but by the news media. “On July 21st I inquired with Jon Fillman, Community Event Manager, concerning permitting and law enforcement support for the rally and parade. I received a call from Mr. Fillman stating that the city had suspended all outdoor special event permits due to COVID Phase two requirements. Mr. Fillman stated that Asheville Police and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office could not and would not provide support due to the ongoing dissention within our communities and that they could not support one event over another. At this point I became curious; I checked the Asheville outdoor events calendar. I was surprised to see two events on the calendar issued during the phase two suspension. The BLM Mural and the George Floyd hologram events were scheduled, permitted and on the public calendar, yet the Back the Blue event was denied.” According to Browne the BLM was scheduled for July 12th and the other was scheduled for July 29th (The Tribune Papers found commercial filmings of the BLM mural and the George Floyd hologram was on the schedule).

“WLOS was provided a press release for this event and decided not to promote it. On the day of the event, WLOS had a cameraman filming for over an hour, yet the reporter never showed to interview the organizers,” said Browne. “The brief interview by WLOS was conducted by their cameraman, who by the way was agitated that the reporter and colleague never showed up. The coverage and article posted by WLOS was untruthful and misleading, by stating 100 people attended when the actual attendance was well over 1,000 people, contained in over 300 motorcycles and 300 cars.” Brown provided aerial footage and pictures as proof of the rally’s size.

He also said that the local daily newspaper provided no coverage of the event.”You have to decide, was this discrimination, a safety decision, or did our event not fit somebody’s narrative.”

The rally and Brown’s surprise at turnout

Browne told the Tribune Papers, “Our narrative from Back the Blue Asheville is to promote support from the community for our Law Enforcement officers that stand in the door protecting and serving our communities daily. We want these men and women to know that their communities back them and are willing to stand for them loudly and boldly.”

He went on to say, “On August 1st at 9 am I arrived at the events staging area in the parking lot of the Swannanoa Ingles Grocery store to a sight I didn’t expect. An hour before the event we already had 50 supporters waiting. I was humbled. As the event drew closer, more and more vehicles and motorcycles kept showing up. We filled the parking lot with an overwhelming show of support.”

Brown said by 10:30 am, “We rolled 300+ motorcycles and 300+ vehicles slowly parading down Route 70 to Tunnel Road, through the tunnel to Pritchard Park and back by the Vance Monument, finally ending at the Innsbrook Mall. The parade was over three miles long;  the front of the parade was ending when the rear of the parade had just started to go through the tunnel. That’s a long parade. The most important aspect of this show of support was the safe manner in which the parade traveled.”

He also noted there were “no incidents, no accidents, and no aggression. The Asheville Back the Blue event wasn’t done. The supporters of Law Enforcement came together the next day and donated over $1,500 in gift cards, poster boards, letters, paintings and ‘thank you’s to be presented to the men and women that serve our communities.”

He added, “Thank you to Law Enforcement, thank you to the community, and thank you for your support.”

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