DELHI — Dozens of demonstrators from across the Southern Tier marched from the Courthouse Square to the Delaware County Public Safety Building on Thursday to protest a 10-point proposal to strengthen police protections members of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association delivered at a press conference earlier this month.

The March for People’s Protection was one in a weeklong series across Tioga, Chenango, Cortland, Tompkins and Broome counties in response to the legislation proposed by Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond and the sheriffs representing the other counties.

“Contrary to the lies on social media, we’re not here because we oppose the police,” said Kelly Corners resident Burr Hubbell. “We don’t oppose the police. We actually recognize that police have a proper role to play in our society, and they occupy, out of necessity, a very high position of public trust. We are here because we oppose the New York State Sheriffs’ Association’s legislative proposal.”

Among the proposed reforms are boosting the charge of resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony offense and making it a felony to disregard an officer’s order to stop or retreat, as well as increased penalties for those who commit crimes against officers such as aggravated harassment, assault, doxxing and stalking.

“Here’s the real treachery in that proposal — they’re trying to hijack our discussion, our movement, our protest,” Hubbell said. “They want to make this about them. They’re claiming that they need protection. They’re claiming they need rights. They claim they’re the victims — they’re not. The police in this case are the perpetrators, not the victims.”

“We’ve been calling this the New York State Sheriffs’ Association’s Plan to Build a Bigger and More Empowered Police State,” said Andy Pragacz, a member of the Binghamton-based Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier. “Their argument is that Black Lives Matter is harming police officers. It’s clear to me that they don’t support officer safety or public safety in the slightest.”

Delhi resident Paul Fontana argued that the proposed laws “would further shield police from accountability for bad behavior, and none ... address the ongoing crisis of systemic racism and police brutality against Black citizens.”

Protesters were met with a counter-demonstration of about two dozen individuals chanting “Back the Blue!” and holding signs reading “support your local sheriff.”

Delhi resident Paul Gray, who drove up and down Main Street flying an American flag out of the window of his pickup truck before the start of either demonstration, said he was interested in hearing the details of demonstrators’ calls to defund the police.

“I don’t want to see our country get any worse than it already is,” said Gray, an Army veteran.

A small contingent of Back the Blue supporters met demonstrators in the driveway to the public safety building, which was blocked off by several deputies who advised that the parking lot was closed except for emergencies.

Treadwell resident Wayne Jones said he didn’t disagree with the majority of the demonstrators’ criticisms of the sheriffs’ proposals.

“We’re just here to back the blue,” he said.

Jones and Delhi resident Matt Calaci agreed that the demonstrators’ argument of the proposals making way for the formation of a police state were slightly far-fetched.

The sheriffs’ proposal also included the introduction of legislation to venerate police work, including establishing a $500,000 disability and death benefit and designating May 15 a state holiday in honor of fallen officers.

“If a police officer wants to make an argument for why they should get a half-million-dollar payout, what do they do? They charge someone with assaulting or resisting arrest, which is usually a way to cover up their own abuse,” Pragacz said. “It’s up to us to defeat the police state. We have police states all across upstate New York, all across the United States — each one its own little mass incarceration paradise.”

“If you read the sheriffs’ proposals in their entirety, it is easy to discern that they cherry-pick parts of them to fit their narrative,” DuMond said. “If people feel comfortable freely assaulting police officers, how does that translate to the common citizen on the street?”

He argued that the proposals would “not only strengthen the protections of the police, but would make the overall community a safer place as a result.”

“What we are doing is what those sheriffs ought to be doing: speaking out against excessive force,” Hubbell said. “They should be speaking out against bad cops, and telling us how they’re going to police their own. They have a moral obligation to do this part of that high public trust in their office, and it’s a moral obligation they have so far failed.

Having breached the public trust by not joining us, having breached the public trust by abusing their powers and failing to police their own and by engaging in discriminatory practices, they have no right, no justice, no moral authority to put forth and seek protections for themselves. Shame on them. Shame on Sheriff DuMond for being party to this power grab.”

“We can always do better, but there has to be civil and meaningful conversation and dialogue. Spewing hate and miss representing facts will never get us anywhere or make things better,” DuMond said. “We have to come together as a community to grow and move forward.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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