In Illinois, hundreds of people recently showed up to the Farmer City Raceway to support law enforcement by enjoying music and beer at the Back the Badge festival.
The festival was organized by the Back the Blue Champaign County Facebook group.
“We’re drinking beer for a good cause,” festival-goer Jan Gumbel said, while surrounded by law enforcement friends.
Gumbel, a former public employee herself, said she came to support public safety.
“I support law enforcement and I empathize with them,” she explained. “I worked for the state highway department. It’s dangerous out there. We lost co-workers. It shakes you up when someone you work with comes to an early demise while doing their job.”
The 10-hour festival included five musical acts and lots of beer. According to Back the Blue founder Matt Stuckey, 1,800 tickets were sold in advance for $20 each, with the proceeds going to the organization’s nonprofit 10-78 Foundation. A reference to the police radio code for “needing assistance,” the charity provided 120 Thanksgiving meals and winter coats for those in need last year.
Stuckey said he launched the Facebook group in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident, when he saw police being treated with disrespect.
“You could tell the hurt. They felt alone,” Stuckey said of his law enforcement friends.
Now, the group has 7,000 followers.
“This is our first big event. We plan on having some other stuff. We have 85 sponsors, so we gave out 1,200 more tickets. And a lot of people are buying tickets at the gate,” Stuckey said.
Tim Voges, a former 28-year-veteran working for the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, was among those who showed up in full support for his law enforcement brethren.
“Police weren’t vilified like they are now,” he told the News Gazette. “It’s just a crazy world where the good guys are bad guys and the bad guys are good guys. I pray for law enforcement every day.”
The Blue Crew motorcyclists — current or former military, law enforcement and first responders — also attended.
Audrey and James Holland, military veterans who are considered disabled due to their service, were also in attendance and have close ties to law enforcement.
“We support those who support us,” said Audrey, who went to school with Amber Oberheim, the widow of Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim, who was fatally shot while responding to a domestic-disturbance call. His shooter was killed by Officer Oberheim’s partner.
Amber Oberheim and three of her four daughters also attended the event. She is the founder of the Peacemaker Project 703 (her husband’s badge number) to “proactively support law enforcement officers and their families through community outreach, reform and education.”
Kris Rath, wife of Champaign Police Officer Nate Rath, worked with 40 volunteers to organize the event.
“I have spent 23 years supporting my husband and his department, and as a veteran [police] spouse, this is my opportunity to give back to all first responders and their families,” she said. “With the foundation, we are also able to do the community bridge piece, plank by plank.”