‘We’ve got your back’: Large Franklin gathering shows support for law enforcement
A rally hosted by Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland in downtown Franklin July 25 drew hundreds of law enforcement officers and spectators as well as a who’s who of Western North Carolina elected officials and candidates, all with one simple message: “We’ve got your back.”
“We have people in every profession that say and do things they shouldn’t do, and unfortunately, we’ve had a very few law enforcement people — one in particular in Minneapolis that killed a guy — very unfortunate, very wrong,” said Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, who is currently a candidate for N.C. Senate. “But there’s been a real backlash towards even good police officers, and I think we all recognize that most of our law enforcement officers are sincere. They certainly don’t do it for the money or the fame or the recognition.”
Corbin, along with Franklin Republican Sen. Jim Davis, District Attorney Ashley Welch and every member of the Macon County Board of Commissioners attended the event as a show of support.
“I appreciate the effort that was made to put this thing together,” said Karl Gillespie, a Macon County commissioner and candidate for Corbin’s House seat who also spoke at the July 25 rally.
“We are very fortunate in Macon County that our community as a whole is very supportive of our police officers,” Gillespie explained. “We’ve got a sheriff that will tell you right off the bat that we’re not perfect. While we don’t have some of the same issues that they have in other areas, I think it’s just as important for us to gather and show our support, and that’s what we did today.”
Crowd size estimates seemed to center around 500 people, making it the largest of recent events in Western North Carolina.
From the podium, Holland reiterated several times that profiling all police officers based on the behavior of the worst of them was unwarranted.
“Right now, law enforcement is feeling like people are looking down on them for the actions of a few others,” he said later. “We’re not those officers. We’re not the bad apples. We wanted to give people an opportunity to show how much they cared about us and as you can see, they came forward and we had a tremendous turnout.”
Waving flags and holding signs, the crowd marched from Franklin’s Town Hall down Main Street, accompanied by several jeeps, motorcyclists and a large Lenco BearCat — an armored vehicle used by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for dangerous standoffs.
When they arrived at the gazebo, they heard from Holland, Welch, Davis, Corbin, Gillespie and Michaela Blanton Lowe. She is the widow of Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr., who was shot to death at age 24 during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40 in 2008. His killer is currently serving his 10th year of a life sentence.
They also heard from a pair of candidates hoping to replace Mark Meadows, the former congressman who resigned his 11th District seat in March to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.
“Sheriff Robbie is just such a great friend to me and you know what, even if he wasn’t a good friend to me, I wanted to come and back up the guys who defend all of us,” said Hendersonville Republican Madison Cawthorn.
During the event, Cawthorn presented Holland with a challenge coin and a letter expressing goodwill, both given to him by President Donald Trump during a recent visit.
“They put a bulletproof vest on every single day,” said Cawthorn. “They’re going into harm’s way and I want to honor them and make sure they know that there are people and there are elected officials who have their back.”
Although the overwhelming majority of local police funding is locally generated, Cawthorn said if there was anything he could do from a federal level once elected, he would.
“If I can get more funding for more training for them, of course I will,” he said. “It keeps them safer and keeps us safer. As I said on stage, I will have their back until the day I die.”
Cawthorn’s opponent, Asheville Democrat Moe Davis, also spoke at the rally, defying notions that the “back the badge” movement was a partisan issue solely supported by conservatives.
“Clearly it was predominantly Republican, but there were a lot of Democrats that thought it was important to let law enforcement know that we’re behind them,” Davis told The Smoky Mountain News later. “I agree that by and large, law enforcement, they’re part of the community. They’re your neighbors. They’re your friends. They’re here to protect and serve everybody. I think it’s important to be there and be seen and let them know that we’ve got their back.”
Davis was one of the first people to graduate from Appalachian State University with a degree in criminal justice, and also graduated from the North Carolina Justice Academy as a law enforcement instructor before beginning a long career as an attorney in the U.S. Air Force.
He said that if elected, he’d advocate for something akin to the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Justice that was established as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Crime and abolished under President Ronald Reagan in 1982.
“There are some things that the LEAA did that I think are worth looking at again,” said Davis. “One of those is providing federal funding for training for law enforcement. Something like the G.I. bill that we have for our veterans. If we could help fund training for current law enforcement and provide educational opportunities while they’re currently serving or after they leave, I think that would be something we could do from the federal level to help improve policing.”