‘Back the Blue’ rally planned in Cuyahoga Falls to support local police

Sean McDonnell
Akron Beacon Journal
Jim Collver holds a print of what he would like to paint on High Street in front of the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center.

While he waits to paint the message on South High Street, an Akron man has organized a rally to let police officers know he and others “Back The Blue.”

A Back The Blue rally will be held later this month at Rubber City Harley Davidson. The rally’s organizer, Jim Collver, said the rally is planned to get the message out while he and others wait to see if a mural with the same message will be approved.

“It’s something that needs to be done, like the street message,” Collver, 68, said. “It’s just something that I think needs to be done to show support for the people who are going out there every day and protecting us.”

In August, Collver reached out to the city of Akron to get permission to paint “Back The Blue” in front of the Akron Police Department on South High Street.

The idea is to paint the words in a single-lane, either in the closest lane to the police department or the lane closest to the Summit County Parking Deck.

“It’s basically like a tip of the hat,” Collver said. “A way to say thank you to all the men and women who serve Akron.”

Collver plans to do the painting himself and has been a part of large displays in the past.

For many years, he has set up large displays of dangling bras across places like the High Level Bridge between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, which was part of the Celtic Club Fights Breast Cancer display.

Collver also got crafty with paint in April 2018 when a tree contractor named Tommy Rhardon refused to finish a job he was paid to complete.

Rardon, who had a history of uncompleted work, was later sentenced to three years in prison for felony theft. He was found to have done the same thing to multiple customers.

Collver’s mural idea is in holding pattern at the city, which is part of why he said he organized this Back The Blue Rally.

The street mural is in limbo because the proposal first needs approval from the newly formed Public Art Commission, which hasn’t been seated yet.

Akron City Council created the new public art policy in early July, but it is now on recess and has yet to name the nine-person board that will approve public art in the city.

The Public Arts Commission grew out of Akron’s first cultural planning process, when residents across the city discussed the need for public art that was open, equitable and neighborhood-centric.

The new public art program creates the commission to review proposals and a framework for an equitable process for selecting artists for public art projects. It also sets standards for the maintenance of public art and creates funding provisions for public art.

City press secretary Ellen Lander Nischt said City Council will choose commission members after council members come back from August recess.

Nischt said the new law means any privately organized and funded project using city property will have to go through the commission.

The Black Lives Matter mural on Howard Street, which was a similarly organized and funded project, was proposed and completed before this ordinance was introduced and the Public Art Master Plan and Public Art Commission legally adopted.

Collver said he has reached out to the city to see if he can get around the public art commission, because he’s been told by city staff he may not have approval to put paint on pavement until Jan. 1. He said that would mean really painting in March or April when the weather breaks.

He said the “Back The Blue” message needs to be timely to be effective.

Collver said he feels the city is hiding behind the art commission. He said the people wanting the mural have been patient, but they don’t expect approval anytime soon, further fueling the desire for a rally.

“Everybody thought it was a really good idea but very few people thought that we'd be allowed to do it,” Collver said. “They thought the city was just going to drag their feet on this thing, and that kind fueled the impatience for the rally to be here.”

Collver said he’s not optimistic that the mural will ever be painted, but he is continuing to pursue the idea.

The rally is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at Rubber City Harley Davidson in Cuyahoga Falls. He said the organizers are preparing for a well-attended event and working to invite other police unions and lodges outside of Akron. Collver is a member of Akron’s citizen Fraternal Order of Police Lodge.

Exact details are being worked out, but they have already scheduled a host for the event, and plan to include several speakers, including current officers and families with long traditions of serving police. Food trucks are planned as well.

Collver said the event will follow current COVID-19 guidelines, and hopes the large parking lot at the dealership will keep people social distant.

He said the goal of the rally is to be a positive experience and to show support.

“It’s not against anything,” Collver said. “We want it to be a positive thing. There's just too much negativity coming out across the country and we’re not about that.”

Reach Sean McDonnell at 330-996-3186 or smcdonnell@thebeaconjournal.com.