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'Back the Blue' march this weekend in Marion to support police

Similar event in Cedar Rapids had been called off.

Demonstrators raise their fists in protest in front of a Marion police vehicle during a march against racial discriminat
Demonstrators raise their fists in protest in front of a Marion police vehicle during a march against racial discrimination and police brutality in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The march started with a rally in Marion Square Park. Marchers proceeded along Seventh Avenue in Marion and onto First Avenue in Cedar Rapids then proceeded west along Collins Rd. NE. Before turning around past F Avenue NE. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — A “Back the Blue” march is scheduled to take place this weekend in Marion after a similar event was called off a few weeks ago in Cedar Rapids.

Gage West, a Marion resident who is organizing the event, said he plans to gather people at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on a sidewalk near City Square Park to “support police officers, military personnel and veterans.”

A similar event and march in Cedar Rapids fell through. Michael Lambert, organizer of the Cedar Rapids event, said he had received permission from Cedar Rapids police to hold a July 11 event. He said he was told ralliers could march using one lane of the roadway as police escorted them. Lambert said he had hoped to use the road because some of the expected participants would be riding motorcycles and because some of veterans planning to be there couldn’t walk the distance.

The Cedar Rapids event, like the Marion event, was organized on Facebook and Lambert said he was expecting 1,000 participants.

But Lambert said he received a call from Cedar Rapids police a few days before the scheduled event and was told he wouldn’t be able to use the road and would receive no police escort.

Lambert said he had heard there would be “counterprotesters” at the march, making a police escort essential.

Cedar Rapids police said in a statement to The Gazette that it is policy to not offer escorts and that any police presence at protests is for safety and traffic control.

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“The City and Police Department respects the rights of individuals to exercise their First Amendment right of peaceful assembly. The decision to have a march or not have a march is up to the event organizers,” the statement read.

“The Police Department did have communications with the event organizers and recommended they use the sidewalks for their safety. It is also my understanding that some organizers wanted to park on the grass at First Avenue and First Street West, however it is designated as no parking. The Police Department doesn’t provide an escort for a march,” the statement continued.

“During recent protests, officers have needed to assist with traffic control for the safety of protesters and motorists. This information has been communicated to event organizers.”

West said he expects a few hundred at the Marion event, according to responses on Facebook.

“This is a smaller event in a smaller area,” he said. “We’re trying to invite Marion residents.”

West said his event is not meant to be a statement against the recent Black Lives Matter events.

“I support Black Lives Matter,” West said. “I also support our officers and military personnel and veterans.”

He said he’s been in contact with the Marion Police Department about the march and plans to keep the march on sidewalks and not streets.

“It’s public property. We’re not marching down the street and we’re not blocking any traffic,” West said. “I’ve talked with the police chief. He wants to make sure it’s peaceful and wants to make sure we are doing it legally and respectfully to other people.”

In a statement Monday, the Marion police said the city “approved a request” for the march to be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday on the sidewalk in front of City Square Park at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 10th Street.

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“Participants plan to hold signs and banners as a way to show support for law enforcement and the military,” the statement reads. “The Marion Police Department was not asked to participate or provide resources for the event. The City of Marion supports free speech and the rights of individuals or groups to peacefully gather to exercise those rights.”

Comments: gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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