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Watch now: Charleston law enforcement rally draws supporters, counter demonstration

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CHARLESTON — Calls for support of "our friends and neighbors" who put their lives on the line daily for the community were made Saturday during a rally for law enforcement.

The "Back the Blue" rally on the south side of the Coles County Courthouse drew a crowd that mostly filled the block of Jackson Avenue. The event also drew a response from a group gathered on the steps of the courthouse's north side that brought calls for an end to racial injustice.

Rally organizer Mike Neal told the audience the event was to "peacefully demonstrate our support" for the work of law enforcement officers.

"These men and women are our friends and neighbors and we ask them daily to put on the blue and protect our safety," he said. "They never know if today's the day they won't return home."

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The rally took place about a week after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was paralyzed after a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer shot him in the back. Asianna Martin spoke during the counter-demonstration and called for change.

"As a Black woman, I am sick and tired of my people being killed just because of their skin color," she said.

After the Back the Blue rally ended, the counter-demonstrators marched to the south side of the courthouse, chanting messages and exchanging words with some of those there to support law enforcement.

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On-duty police kept the groups separated and eventually ordered those who gathered to not block the street because the planned event had ended.

Asked about the timing of Saturday's event, Neal said organizers began planning it about two months ago.

"I don't connect the two of them," he said, referring to the rally's timing in the wake of the Kenosha shooting. "Our goal has always been to stand as a community and thank those who make it a safe environment."

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Neal told the audience the event was meant to be non-political, but speaker Rory Steidl used some of his remarks to criticize the political leaders of cities where rioting and protests have taken place.

Steidl, a retired Illinois State Police master sergeant, said the "core component" of the current division is "alleged systemic police misconduct." 

He labeled "intolerance" as "one of the most abused terms" and said instances of police using deadly force "are most often reasonably justified."

Steidl became emotional while mentioning the names of police officers he's known who were killed while on duty and called for "a message of common sense, decorum and unity" when addressing differences.

"We need to get back to rational discussion," he said. "We and our country will be better if we can do that."

The counter-demonstration was made up mostly of Eastern Illinois University students along with some local supporters.

Speaker Brianna Hall said the law enforcement support rally's message reminded people of the ways they can be divided and called for a different "mindset."

"My heart is aching because our people have been burdened with grief for too long," she said. "I'm just trying to be me."

Hall also addressed the "all lives matter" response that sometimes comes from the Black Lives Matter message.

"If you believe all lives matter, why do you not hurt?" she said.

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