Supporters of law enforcement hold demonstration in Menifee

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A group gathers at the intersection of Newport and Haun Roads in Menifee during a "Stand Up for America" rally highlighting support for law enforcement. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo
Helen Tillotson gathers with others in Menifee in an effort to rally support for patriotism during a “Stand Up for America” rally. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

A group of nearly three dozen kicked off their weekend with a demonstration supporting law enforcement at a major Menifee intersection Friday, Aug. 7.

The protest, organized by Menifee resident Patrick Wyatt and attended by about 30 Menifee residents, including the Menifee mayor and a city councilwoman, was held at the intersection of Haun and Newport Roads in the late morning and early afternoon.

“I love America, and I want to see it keep being the greatest country in the world, and I think there are a lot of forces right now trying to tear it down, so I wanted everybody, especially people in Menifee, to know that there’s a lot of us who love this country,” Wyatt said of his motivation for holding the rally.

People display signs expressing their support for law enforcement during a rally in Menifee. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

The protest had been previously scheduled for Friday, July 30, but was rescheduled due to hot weather in Menifee that day. The weather on Aug. 7 was a little more agreeable.

Wyatt said he had been discouraged the past few months by protests against law enforcement following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd, a Black man, died after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is White, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking demonstrations against police brutality and racism in all 50 states.

Wyatt said he has not personally seen any of the Black Lives Matter protests that have happened locally.

“But of course I watch all of the ones on television,” Wyatt said. “Mostly Fox News because as far as I’m concerned, the other stations are fake news because they don’t even report a lot of it.”

Wyatt said he did not defend or support Chauvin’s actions, but also did not support many of the demonstrations after, which he said were ‘hijacked’ by Black Lives Matter activists, who he described as “Marxists.”

“My very first reaction to the Floyd situation was just like every other American, we were so repulsed by it, we could not believe (the officer) did that,” Wyatt said. “However, two things happened, not immediately but as time goes by — one is what Mr. Floyd actually was and who he was and what his record was prior to that. And secondly is what exactly happened, how did he actually die? … My reaction then is that this Black Lives Matter took that and hijacked the Black people’s narrative and used that. Because the leaders of that organization have said they’re Marxists and they want to destroy the nuclear family in this country and they want to change the country to socialism or communism, and that really grinds me.”

One of three Black Lives Matter co-founders said in a 2015 interview that she and another co-founder “are trained Marxists.” The movement has grown dramatically since 2015, though; an ABC News/Washington Post poll from July found that 63% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement.

One woman, who asked only to be identified by her first name, Cheryl, echoed Wyatt’s sentiment.

“When the original incident happened with George Floyd, I thought it was tragic, but it soon changed,” Cheryl said. “The protesting turned into rioting. It turned into people just taking advantage of the situation.”

Cheryl said while she acknowledges some wrongdoing on the part of some officers, she doesn’t think that is representative of all police, and she does not agree with protests against law enforcement.

“I realize that there are some policemen that are not doing the right thing, but I think that the majority are doing the right thing and only have the best intentions,” Cheryl said. “They’re really sacrificing their lives, our police force all over the country. They’re putting their lives on the line every day. When they walk out the front door, they don’t know if they’re coming home.”

Menifee Councilwoman Lesa Sobek said she attended out of support for police, in particular the new Menifee Police Department, which went online July 1. She said she believes there is strong support for police in Menifee, something she said she saw during the new police department’s inaugural parades on June 30.

“The city council had planned to do a huge welcoming, invite the whole community, but because of COVID we were unable, so they did parades,” Sobek said. “So what we did is they had seven routes and they only advertised it the day before, because they were concerned, they didn’t want any riffraff or any naysayers. All the city councilmembers went on a route and other city staff. The route that I went on I was overwhelmed at the love and welcome our residents provided. There was not one naysayer. People made signs, people were holding up flags, people were saying ‘welcome Menifee PD.’”

Sobek, too, said she acknowledged the criticism of police in light of Floyd’s death in May, but does not believe all law enforcement are to blame.

“You know, all lives matter,” Sobek said. “Everyone. It’s about the people. It’s about the land of America we live in. And yes, there’s been some things that have happened in the past that need to change. There are things that need to change. But we won’t change by being angry and fighting. We’re going change by coming together and being unified and being able to talk about it. And I am grateful that in our city we have open conversation and I’m glad to see the support especially for our police officers.”

Menifee Mayor Bill Zimmerman, also present at the rally, said he was happy to be there to support local law enforcement officers.

“We’re a patriotic city here in Menifee, and then to support our first responders, I absolutely had to be here and support this group, because it’s so needed right now with all of the unrest that’s happening,” Zimmerman said. “And it’s just great to see people coming together that are veterans, that are longtime residents of Menifee that appreciate their law enforcement, that appreciate the freedoms that this nation has.” 

Zimmerman said he also previously attended a protest in Menifee against police brutality after Floyd’s death more than two months ago.

“It was obviously a tragic event and there were protests, there was one right here in this same location,” Zimmerman said. “And that day I came out and visited with the people that were here that had a message and they wanted to be heard and so I think it was the right thing to do to be with them and stand with them and protest peacefully, and that’s exactly what they did, there was no spray painting or vandalism, so they did it the right way, and I was here to thank them for protesting in a peaceful way.”

Aug. 7’s rally was similarly peaceful, and Zimmerman said he is happy that Menifee residents can get their views across in that manner.

“I think that the people that were demonstrating here, the locals, realized that we are listening and that they don’t have to be outrageous in order to be heard,” Zimmerman said. “They can peacefully protest and the mayor’s gonna come and stand with them and hear their concerns and I can take that back to my council, which I did just a couple nights later at a council meeting and shared with my council colleagues the concerns that were raised that day by the folks that were there. So they realized if they’re just trying to be heard, they don’t need to try real hard in Menifee, we’re listening.”

A group gathers at the intersection of Newport and Haun Roads in Menifee during a “Stand Up for America” rally highlighting support for law enforcement. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo
Supporters of law enforcement hold demonstration in Menifee

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.