By Ruben Lowman
A large crowd of local law enforcement supporters came out to the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex last Saturday to voice their approval for officers in the midst of a tumultuous moment between police departments and the public all over the world.
The “Defend Your Police” rally took place at the amphitheatre at the sports complex after organizer Tracey Lutz-Danka was forced to change the location from the North Myrtle Beach City Hall to better accommodate the large response they received from the public. The passionate crowd was decked out in American flag apparel and numbered in the hundreds on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.
Officers from North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Horry County, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Natural Resources appeared at the rally, many taking to the stage to be commended for their service by emcee Tom Lorenz when the event first began around 12 noon. A procession of local, state and national politicians and law enforcement then took the podium to praise and express gratitude and appreciation.
North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley was the first guest speaker, after local singer Gayle Bliss’ emotional rendition of the national anthem. Hatley stressed that the officers who live and work here do not fit the image seen in the media recently.
“A lot of it is driven by social media,” she said. “Some of it is by experience. Some of it is pushed by political parties and there’s a lot of peer pressure. But I’m going to tell you something. Horry County and North Myrtle Beach have the best police officers and the best police departments that any area could ever have.”
Hatley then recited the code of ethics that the International Association of Police Chiefs adheres to, explaining that the city’s police officers “strive every day to live up to those commitments. Our city practices community policing. Our police officers do not sit on the sidelines. They are out with the public in our community. They make visits to our visitors, they make visits to the people who live here, they make visits to the business owners.”
She finished her speech by expressing her pride in the city’s public safety department and promising that she would never defund them while she serves as mayor.
“The North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Department sets a positive example that we can all be proud of,” Hatley said. “I am, as mayor, so proud of every one of our police officers and our firemen. I thank their families for supporting them and supporting their jobs. I make a commitment to our public safety department. As long as I’m mayor you are not going to be defunded. We are going to support you in every way possible.”
The city’s new Chief of Police, Tommy Dennis, took the opportunity to acknowledge that there have been issues with some officers nationwide because they are not properly trained in how to address the public. He said that stands in stark contrast to the training received by our police force, and that a few bad actors should not tarnish the majority.
“Our police officers are dedicated every day to being fair and helpful and providing helpful service to everyone,” he said. “We train [our officers] to look at problem-solving. People have challenges and we try to get to the root of the problem and solve it before it becomes even bigger.”
Dennis said that each and every officer enjoys interacting with the public on a daily basis, both visitors and residents. He noted that the city has a great reputation for its policing, partially because they treat people with respect and they attempt to resolve the issue before it becomes a larger problem.
“I will tell you this, we are human,” Dennis continued. “We’re not perfect and we’ll admit that. But we’re always constantly trying to see what problems are out there and we’ll train and we’ll adapt and we’ll learn and we’ll grow. We’re always looking to see what we can do to make ourselves better. That’s what we do.”
He went on to explain that having a police officer who believes he is always right “is a bad combination because it leads to a sense of self-importance and a sense of entitlement.” He said that this leads to officers who no longer feel they are part of the community and begin to act like it. But he cautioned that they were the vast minority.
“While we know that there are some police officers who cause unjustified and sometimes incomprehensible tragedies, those guys that do that are so few in comparison to the good that it doesn’t even register. You have to look hard to find the bad [officers] and they manifest themselves sometimes and those agencies deal with it. But your men and women of North Myrtle Beach and this county are a fine set of people. And just like me, they become police officers for the main reason that we like helping people,” Dennis concluded.
After a brief pause in the speakers to give some Uncle Sam hats to local children, District 28 State Senator Greg Hembree reminisced about his time and experience working with local law enforcement when he was solicitor of Horry County.
“It was a blessing and a privilege every single day of my life as a prosecutor to get to work with law enforcement officers,” Hembree said. “And to get to see them and know them personally, know how they really think and act. Every law enforcement officer I had the privilege of working with in this community was truly an exceptional person and it was a joy to work with them.”
Hembree recounted how working closely with officers in our community gave him a unique opportunity to really see the pressure and difficulty of the profession.
The state senator encouraged everyone in attendance to go up to an officer if you see them and commend them for the work that they do.
“If you see a police officer, it really matters when you walk up to them and say, ‘Officer, I just want to tell you I really appreciate your service,” Hembree said. “And do it honestly and sincerely, and that officer will be ready to march another hundred miles.”
Throughout the event emcee Tom Lorenz kept the socially-distanced crowd engaged with his energy. He also took every opportunity to praise the officers on hand and that serve this area and the rest of the country for their sacrifice.
“For the amount of people that they’re paying them, that would be a hard job for me to take,” Lorenz said. “But I got to tell you, the pride that these men and women have in their jobs and what they do for us is worth every dollar of it.”
North Myrtle Beach Councilwoman Nikki Fontana followed the state senator, recognizing the “special calling” that those who choose the path of law enforcement have. “Right now I think we can all agree that the world we live in is in a time of unrest, nothing is certain. But I can tell you one thing that is certain. These men and women in uniform will continue to protect us no matter what comes their way,” Fontana said.
“They will always put themselves in harm’s way to protect you and I, no matter what your status is, no matter what your last name is, no matter what your age is and no matter what your color is. I am here today to show my support and to have a voice for these men and women that protect us.”
Tom Fox from the Horry County Sheriff’s Office noted the difference he experienced personally between working the rally and others in the area earlier this year.
“I stand here with great pride looking out at this crowd after working some of the anti-police rallies in Myrtle Beach this year,” Fox said.
“We can’t have the American Dream, we can’t have society without these guys that are willing to risk their lives to give it to us,” U.S. Representative Tom Rice said.
Host Lorenz made sure to reiterate to rally attendees that they should remain civil if and when they cross paths with people who share the opposite viewpoint.
“I want to remind you that if you incur any of the opposition out there, the best way to treat them is to ignore them. We don’t want to fight them. Don’t you waste a breath or a minute or your time arguing or messing with any of those people on your social media, but if you see them anywhere around you ignore them,” Lorenzo said.