2016-10-03 / Front Page

Blessing of the Badges

Local reverends, residents show support for emergency responders

(From left to right) Rev. Arthur Bennett bows his head in prayer along with Charlestown Police Chief Patrick Connors and Charlestown Fire Chief Charlie Baraly during the "Blessing of the Badges" on Saturday, Oct. 1. — CAMERON PAQUETTE(From left to right) Rev. Arthur Bennett bows his head in prayer along with Charlestown Police Chief Patrick Connors and Charlestown Fire Chief Charlie Baraly during the "Blessing of the Badges" on Saturday, Oct. 1. — CAMERON PAQUETTECHARLESTOWN — In light of high tension toward law enforcement in some communities across the country, a local reverend organized an event this past Saturday to show local law enforcement and first responders that the bravery they exhibit on a daily basis is valued.

A crowd of 30 supporters of Charlestown’s police, fire and EMS crews turned out under grey skies at the town’s emergency services building at 2 Claremont Road for the first-ever “Blessing of the Badges” Saturday, Oct. 1. Rev. Arthur Bennett of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Charlestown reached out to Police Chief Patrick Connors with the idea of holding the event to show police and first responders that their services are appreciated in a time where national tensions between citizens and police are at a high point.

“It’s very, very nice to have people come out and support us,” Connors said.

Following a number of fatal high profile police-involved shooting deaths of African American men across the country, and a horrific attack against police in Dallas, Texas that resulted in the death of five police officers, Rev. Bennett said the country has “to find our values.”

“We need to stop and think — what if these guys and gals weren’t here?” said the reverend, himself a former police officer who served on a department in Fairfax, Virginia from 1965-1983. “The idea is to draw attention in the United States to police and fire who are protecting us from chaos.”

A black American flag with a single blue and red stripe hung above the entryway to one of the fire department garage bays. Rev. Bennett and Connors stood below the flag for the brief ceremony, in which Rev. Bennett and Rev. David Grasso of Life Fellowship Foursquare Church in Charlestown blessed the gathered members of Charlestown’s police, fire and EMS departments.

Small prayer medallions with St. Michael on one side and the Guardian Angel on the other were handed out to attendees. Citizens talked over coffee and donuts and thanked the police, fire and EMS department members in attendance.

“We were very eager to pray for (police, fire and EMS members) amidst everything going on,” said Cindy Grasso, Rev. David Grasso’s wife and co-pastor. The couple has a son-in-law who is a member of the New Hampshire State Police.

Saturday’s event came almost a week after Cody LaFont, 25, a Claremont resident, was fatally shot in a police encounter on Congress Street Sunday, Sept. 25. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office is conducting an ongoing investigation into the incident and released the name of the officer who shot LaFont as Corporal Ian Kibbe on Friday.

Connors said the frustration for some with the lack of information coming out of the investigation is due to an “instant gratification society” that that wants answers in less time than a thorough investigation can provide them.

“There’s so much information and so much stuff they have to sift through,” he said. “The AG has to do right by the police and the families.”

He said that the results of the AG’s investigation into an officer-involved shooting in Charlestown in 2007 “took a long time to come,” but that after seeing the way the AG’s office conducted that investigation, he understands why the current investigation is taking so long.

“We just have to be patient,” he said.

New Hampshire State Rep. Steven Smith (Sullivan County District 11) said that the ability of police and emergency responders to do what they do is something that people need to remember and respect.

“Folks have to remember that when we are running away from danger, (police, fire and EMS) are running toward it,” he said.

Rev. Bennett said another Blessing of the Badges is planned for next September.

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