Residents embrace law enforcement at ‘Hug a Cop’ event

WESLACO — As the nation continues to debate whose lives matter, residents and police officers from this small community set aside the rhetoric on Friday in favor of offering their idea for resolve: to share an embrace.

Sponsored by the Mid-Valley Lions Club and hosted by the Weslaco Police Department, Friday morning’s “Hug a Cop” event encouraged citizens to show their appreciation of local law enforcement.

One by one, those who crowded the small confines of the police department’s briefing room, where food and refreshments were also available, hugged police officers, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and deputies from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s and Precinct 1 Constable’s offices.

“It was awesome seeing the cops and servicemen with a smile on their faces,” said Adrian Gonzalez, board president for the Lion’s Club. “To know that they are appreciated means a lot. They were excited and pumped, and they were out here shaking hands and giving hugs as well. It felt really good.”

Gonzalez said the club was moved by recent events in the nation, beginning more than a week ago with the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota before escalating with the killing of five police officers in Dallas.

Sterling’s and Castile’s deaths were especially controversial since the unrelated killings of the two black men by police officers spawned allegations of racial injustice, which many have attributed to the ambiguous nature of cell phone footage raising questions about whether the shootings were justified. This gave further rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Coupled with the shootings in Dallas — considered the most deadly for officers in U.S. history — and the volatile nature in which officers are now scrutinized, Gonzalez said it made sense to show a little love.

“They have families and they’re out there supporting us, so we want to show them a little appreciation,” Gonzalez said in support of local law enforcement.

For Sgt. Jose P. Rodriguez, of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, the gesture couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I was really, really hurt the last couple of days,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been difficult to clock in at work and see the images everywhere of some of our brothers and sisters getting buried. But I also really appreciate the people who have come out here to show us their support. It’s something that we may not always show, but we carry it with us inside our hearts. So I’m thankful.”

Weslaco Police Chief Stephen Scot Mayer shared similar sentiments, remarking that the show of support achieves clarity for officers who may be rethinking their line of work.

“It’s incredibly reassuring to see how much the community truly cares,” Mayer said. “After the events in Dallas and the events that preceded the events in Dallas, many law enforcement officers have questioned why they do what they do. What has happened since that time is an incredible outpouring of support from citizens of the United States, including Weslaco. It answers that question of why we do what we do, which is to protect and fight for these very good people who appreciate us. Events like today help drive that home and to keep cops grounded in that reason … that the community does care about what we do.”

Also participating in the event were members of the Weslaco Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor David Suarez and Pastor Elias Treviño of Family Life Ministries of Weslaco, who prayed over the festivities and for law enforcement.

Suarez was pleased with the turnout, noting that the enthusiasm “speaks volumes for us that our community is behind our police officers who risk their lives every day.”

The event renewed Rodriguez’s desire to keep working in law enforcement.

“We do forget that there are people that support us out there,” Rodriguez said after being embraced by several members of the community.

“It really touches me, and not just as a police officer but also as a citizen here in Weslaco, as a father of three daughters and as a husband for 21 years. It gives me a sense of community and a newfound appreciation of the people who we service.”