Annapolis Independence Day parade honors freedom of the press, especially for The Capital

On the holiday when American freedoms are celebrated, spectators at the Annapolis Independence Day parade reserved their biggest cheers for freedom of the press — specifically, as practiced by their hometown newspaper.

A few dozen current and former journalists from the Capital Gazette — some with tears in their eyes — marched down Main Street to the sound of supportive whistles, hollers and applause.

Five staff members of the local newspaper were shot to death last week in the nation’s latest mass shooting. Police say a Laurel man with a long-festering grudge attacked the newsroom with a shotgun.

The Capital Gazette is owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

On Wednesday night, the newspaper staff chose to march in the parade to show solidarity with the community.

Rick Hutzell, The Capital’s editor, said journalists don’t usually participate in such events — they document them. But he felt this time was different. He was heartened by the show of support.

“We know this is not just our tragedy,” Hutzell said. “We are part of Annapolis and we are part of Anne Arundel County. The faces I saw and the friends I saw convinced me it was the right decision to be out there, and to be with our wider family, and it felt good.”

Capital Gazette photographer Paul Gillespie, copy editor Erin Hardy and editor Jimmy DeButts led the group. They carried a blue banner bearing the newspaper’s logo that Gillespie had found in his home.

They were joined by other employees, including some who were in the newsroom during the June 28 attack. Several wore T-shirts reading “Journalism matters.”

Others in the parade paid tribute to the newspaper staff. Some wore T-shirts that read “Press on.”

Local artist Aaron Yealdhall designed the shirts and is working with a team to sell them. Profits are to benefit the Capital Gazette Families Fund set up by Baltimore Sun Media Group parent company tronc and the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

The Annapolis Sons of the Signers came down Main Street in an historic fire truck. A banner on the front quoted Thomas Jefferson: “The only security of all is in a free press.”

Tony Metz, a Lutheran pastor visiting from West Columbia, S.C., with his wife, Christina, said he felt it was important to celebrate America’s freedoms on Independence Day.

Metz recently visited Germany during a freedom celebration there and was moved by the Germans’ devotion to the concept — something still fresh for those in former East Germany.

Asked what the holiday means to him, Metz answered: “One word: Freedom. That sums it up. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Free speech. Free, free, free. Love it and want to keep it.”

Some of the parade’s littlest audience members weren’t quite so sure.

Jamie Cowan tried to coax her children, 6-year-old Flynn and 9-year-old Hannah, to explain the holiday.

“We celebrate the Fourth of July because …” Cowan said.

Hannah wasn’t really sure. So Cowan explained the concept of independence — that America separated from England so it could decide for itself how to govern its citizens.

Flynn, who was practicing waving his American flag before the parade, had a ready answer: “My daddy’s in the parade!” he announced.

Their father, Lt. Robert Cowan Jr., was marching with the Annapolis Fire Department’s Honor Guard.

The parade was full of the traditional pageantry: fire and police departments, a band from the Naval Academy playing the fight song, and politicians galore.

Winners of last week’s primary elections walked the brick streets, shaking hands and posing for pictures with potential voters.

Both Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, were in the parade — with several other groups between them.

Hogan was trailed by his giant “Change Maryland” campaign bus. Jealous’ team handed out water bottles.

Rep. John Sarbanes wore a “Press on” T-shirt as he walked the parade route. His office forwarded a request from Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley to the White House to order the American flag lowered in recognition of the shooting at the newspaper.

Steuart Pittman, a Democratic candidate for Anne Arundel County executive, had a slew of supporters in matching blue shirts on a flatbed trailer, shaded by umbrellas and clapping and waving signs in unison.

Pittman’s opponent, Republican County Executive Steve Schuh, walked with his own crowd of supporters.

Ray Leone had hoped to be a happy political candidate, but he lost in the primary election for a chance to be on the county’s school board, which is elected for the first time.

Instead, the Edgewater man and his wife, Deanna, staked out a spot on Church Circle.

Leone said he’s been coming to the Annapolis parade since he was a kid as a reminder of the brave patriots from all those years ago.

“It’s a celebration of liberty,” he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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