Two rallies with different messages stood side by side outside the Douglas County Courthouse Saturday, Aug. 1. Before a rally for reconstructing the Superior Police Department was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., a separate group had gathered along Belknap Street to support the police.

“Instead of defunding the police we should be giving them more money for the work they’re doing,” said Rick Brown of Superior, who held up a sign that read “Thankful for our police!”

The Reconstruct SPD rally wasn’t a call to abolish police, members said, it was a call to change focus.

“Basically we want to end police brutality and defund the police to put more money into the community,” said Laura Jaques of Superior, one of the organizers.

Superior is a mostly white community.

“We all need to check our privilege; we all need to learn,” Jaques said. “I think this is a great educational opportunity as well.”

A petition the group has been circulating proposes rerouting police department funds to officer training and providing mental health and social service professionals who could be dispatched with police to help de-escalate situations. There are additional addendums, such as one to liquidate or destroy the department’s military-grade equipment.

“I stand for not the defunding of all police officers but holding police officers accountable for what they’re doing,” said Lamarquita Leach of Duluth, who spoke at the Reconstruct SPD rally. “It’s not that I don’t support the police. I don’t support the bad ones. With that being said, I would love to start making Blue Lives Matter flags with Black Lives Matter over top, because it’s not the police I have a problem with. It’s the fact that they’re taking minority lives, innocent lives.”

“I just want to say that from the beginning, for years, all we wanted was for police to be held accountable for their murders, for their wrongdoings, and it seems too much to ask,” said Anissa Peppersack of Superior, who attended the Reconstruct SPD rally. “And so I think it had to be escalated to this point of reconstruction if just asking police to be accountable for what they’re doing is too much.”

Counter protesters wave American and Blue Lives Matter flags Saturday in front of the Douglas County Courthouse. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Counter protesters wave American and Blue Lives Matter flags Saturday in front of the Douglas County Courthouse. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Tom Miller, pastor of Central Assembly Church, invited both groups to share a prayer.

“It’s about people and sometimes we forget that, and people have different opinions and God loves everybody,” said Miller, who attended the event to support the police.

No one thinks the death of George Floyd was right, he said.

"That was unacceptable; that was wrong. There are bad police officers and we need to root them out. That’s a given. We are in 100% agreement with that," Miller said. "But we believe we need our police department and we stand with them."

He appreciated the fact that many people were willing to discuss their viewpoints, and that the dual event remained peaceful. So did Peppersack.

“My hope is for this to remain as peaceful as possible, but I see people talking and I think it’s actually really cool that we’re having these conversations,” Peppersack said. “I think otherwise we’d just be stuck in our own little world, hearing the same things that we already agree with, but since we’re kind of mingling I feel like we are able to be exposed to something we’re not used to.”

The groups played dueling musical selections, and there were a few sparks of contention between members of the groups over a flag that was dropped on the roadway and a person who was burning small flags. The Reconstruct SPD speakers finished without incident and the group walked to Hammond Park at about 2:30 p.m. They invited members of the other rally to join them at the park for a community barbecue.

The petition can be found online at change.org.