Well over a thousand Villagers sporting Blue Lives Matter signs and American flags on close to 900 golf carts paraded through Lake Sumter Landing late Saturday afternoon to show their support for law enforcement officers – both locally and across the nation.
The parade started around 3 p.m. after the carts gathered in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble. Unlike the recent golf cart parade in support of President Trump, there were no protesters at Market Square. Traffic was stopped for the parade and shouts of “We support law enforcement” and “We love cops” could be heard as the carts circled the town square area several times, many with their horns constantly honking.
“This is the law enforcement generation,” said Village of Bonita resident Ed Sullivan, as he turned the corner and drove past Panera Bread.
Before the parade started, Sullivan, who attended the event with his wife, Ronnie, said he was thrilled to see so many golf carts with Blue Lives Matter signs lining up outside the popular Lake Sumter Landing bookstore.
“It’s great,” he said. “Look how many people are here and they’re all supporting the police.”
Sullivan added that he’s tired of the coverage of law enforcement he’s seeing on mainstream media outlets.
“The crap you see on the news, all they do is knock the cops,” he said. “They protect the criminals.”
Snowbirds Rick Almeida and his wife, Annamarie, also were excited about participating in the parade. The Village of Santo Domingo couple decorated their cart with signs and said they wanted to show their support for local law enforcement – especially since Rick is involved in public safety up North. Rick said there are “bad apples” in every police department and he doesn’t condone the actions of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin that took the life of George Floyd.
“The overwhelming majority are really good people,” he said of law enforcement officers across the country. “Everyone I work with is really good and no one agrees with what happened with George Floyd. No one was happy about that at all.”
Annamarie agreed but added that she didn’t think the officer involved in a recent shooting outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta got a fair shake. That officer, Garrett Rolfe, was charged with multiple counts in the death of Rayshard Brooks.
“I didn’t sleep the other night because of what happened in Atlanta,” she said. “I just feel bad for him. If it were any other time, it would have been justified. It was justified.”
For Phyllis Tester, Saturday’s event held special meaning. That’s because the Village of Rio Ponderosa resident served 30 years as a police officer in Pennsylvania and she made it a point to support her brothers and sisters in law enforcement. She waved as golf cart after golf cart drove by and said she was thrilled to be at the parade.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “They are really being beat up and it’s not fair. They need our support.”
Dave and Terry Thomas, of the Village of Winifred, said they felt it was important to pay respect to local law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.
“We really appreciate the job they do and we wanted to show our support for them,” Terry said.
Dave said they couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to attend Saturday’s Blue Lives Matter golf cart parade.
“We support the police here and it’s just unbelievable how many people have turned out to show their support,” he said. “It’s just a great thing and the support that we have here is wonderful.”
Kathy Spear, of the Village of Valle Verde, agreed that it was important to show law enforcement officers how appreciated they truly are.
“We are horrified by some of the stuff we see in the news, just horrified,” she said.
Lorraine Lavarnway, of Village of Rio Grande, agreed.
“We love the police and we think they’re getting a raw deal,” she said. “This is just one small little thing that we can do.”
As for the overwhelming turnout, Spear called it simply amazing.
“We thought it was going to be like Trump’s party the other day,” she said, referring to a 650-plus golf cart parade to support the president that was held on his birthday this past Sunday. “But it’s giving him a good run for his money here.”
Chuck Warren, a retired Atlanta firefighter who lives in the Village of Hemingway, said it was important to him to come out and support his brothers and sisters in blue. He recalled his time in Atlanta and said as a battalion chief, he was responsible for the area where the recent police-involved shooting took place and the Wendy’s restaurant was burned to the ground.
“I can assure you that had we been there, we would have given them 110 percent,” he said.
Warren, whose family has close to 250 years of service in police and fire agencies, said he worked in some of the most deprived areas in Atlanta. But he said when he and his fellow firefighters went on calls, everyone they came in contact with was treated with the utmost honor and respect.
“Nobody was ever, ever allowed to disrespect anyone,” he said.
As for the event, organizer Sandra Bagby, of the Village of St. James, said she and the 11 other members of a grassroots committee that put the parade together couldn’t have been happier.
“Everyone here is thrilled,” she said. “We started with thinking there would only be 20 or 30 carts.”
Co-parade organizer Maryanne Zinke, of the Village of Buttonwood, agreed.
“I’m so grateful for all of these people showing up, and not just for showing up for this, but the fact that they served and they’re still so actively supporting law enforcement,” she said. “Blue Lives Matter and somebody needs to step up and put a stop to the nonsense.”