Hero Thrill Show attempts to build community trust

Hero Thrill Show attempts to build community trust
Tony Webb

Jarred Lee brought his youngest son to the 62nd Annual Hero Thrill Show on Sunday to see “all the cool cars.”

But there might have been a more important reason for the outing.

The heroes in the show are Philadelphia officers and firefighters.

Lee and his son are black. And Lee is well aware of the racial tension between police and African Americans in several communities nationwide.

“These situations are truly egregious, but you must have common sense, good judgment, and see each situation on a case-by-case basis,” he said of the shootings of unarmed black men by police. “There’s no blanket statement to be had for every situation.”

Since mid-September, there has been two police-involved violent confrontations in Philadelphia. A cop-hating gunman went on a shooting spree on Sept. 17 in West Philadelphia, wounding two police officers and killing one female by-stander before being shot and killed by police. And just days ago, nine police officers reportedly fired 109 rounds at Christopher Sowell, a West Philly man accused of beating, stabbing and choking five people, including his son and daughter.

Against this backdrop, the show went on. An estimate 15,000 people—a mix of black and white faces—sat in the stands outside the Wells Fargo Center to watch the feats of the police and firefighter motorcycle drill teams, K9 units, SWAT and bomb squads and to learn more about firefighting equipment.

There were no protests, no demonstrations.

“There was never protest on our radar for this event,” said police Commissioner Richard Ross. “That’s heartwarming. We’re openly looking to build up trust between our force and the community. Give us that opportunity.

“There are those who have legitimate beefs with the police and those who don’t, but we should all come to the table to openly discuss them.”

Retired police motorcycle officer Thomas J. Gibbons was a Hero Thrill Show Grand Marshall. He was wounded and his partner killed in 1970 amid racial turmoil at that time.

“I’m proud there’s been no real tension in Philly between the police, the public and protesters,” he said. “Events like this show that even with all that’s smoldering, there is good. Look, It’s tough out there. I wouldn’t want to be a police officer today.”

His father was the legendary police commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons and he has two nephews now on the force.

Tyler McGuigan, 21, a criminal justice major at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, hopes to become a police officer one day and follow in the footsteps of his father, an officer featured in the show.

It’s “ridiculous” that police go through the scrutiny they do “from the media in particular” in the name of upholding the law he said. “Without police, there would be chaos.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the education of the children of police officers and firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

“We have been able to pay for 18 children to go to college with several more in the immediate pipeline,” said Hero Thrill Show President/CEO Jimmy Binns.

And Binns has advice for anyone who feels police are the unfair, unjust and out of control: “Come out to our next thrill show and see how good these guys truly are.