By Ken DeCoster
Rockford Register Star
MACHESNEY PARK — About 250 leather-clad men and women revved up their motorcycles and drove 100 miles through occasional light rain on Saturday to show their support for law enforcement.
The Back the Blue Rally got rolling at Crazy Times Pub & Grub in Machesney Park and included stops at bars in Durand, Oregon and Rockford before winding its way back to its starting point.
“A majority of the police officers that I know are good people,” Crazy Times owner Pete Gwizdala said. “They do the right thing. My customers support them and I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
People lined up under a tent set up outside the business to purchase T-shirts and wristbands in support of law enforcement, while an employee cooked burgers and steaks on a grill.
Saturday’s rally was the fourth such event held in the area since August in response to frequent protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
A Back the Blue Rally was held outside the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center on Aug. 1, where law enforcement supporters and counterprotesters clashed after the event.
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About 150 boats took to the Rock River on Aug. 21 in support of law enforcement.
A Back the Blue Rally was also held Sep. 19 at Loves Park City Hall.
“If every profession policed themselves as well as law enforcement, we’d have fewer bad lawyers, fewer bad teachers and fewer bad doctors, so overall I think police do a great job,” Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury said. “Are there reforms necessary? There should be reforms in every profession. Right now, everybody is after the police and that’s why they need people like us to come out and support them.”
Members of the Fire & Iron Motorcycle Club participated in Saturday’s rally. Club President Ed LaBay, a retired Byron firefighter, said the nation would be in a shambles without dedicated police officers.
“We’re going to have less than stellar people in any profession,” LaBay said. “But, I can tell you from being a firefighter and surrounded by firefighters and police, the stress level is through the roof every day, and what these guys accomplish is nothing short of incredible.”
The Steel Pigs Motorcycle Club, which consists of active and retired police officers, firefighters and civilians, also participated in Saturday’s rally.
Club President John Eau Claire, a retired Rockford police officer, said the club raises money for area nonprofits, including the Walter Lawson Children’s Home in Loves Park.
“I just want people to realize that there are folks out here in the community that do support the public safety people and this is just a way to show it,” Eau Claire said.
Saturday’s event attracted a number of civilians, including Dena Wenger of Rockford.
“We’re here to support the police and, in particular, my nephew and his wife who are both on the Rockford Police Department,” Wenger said. “In these times of unrest, I think it’s particularly important. We cannot have a lawless society.”