Police: 'We are here to serve as peacekeepers' during Porter mistrial protests

Mayor: "We are prepared to respond. " Police Commissioner Davis: "We are here to serve as peacekeepers."

Law enforcement officers from across Maryland have joined Baltimore police on city streets Wednesday as "peacekeepers," Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, pledging to respect the rights of lawful protesters.

Davis joined Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference at police headquarters to discuss efforts to keep calm in the hours after a mistrial was declared in Officer William G. Porter's case.

"Protesters who are lawfully assembled have a friend in the Baltimore Police Department," Davis said. "We are here to serve as peacekeepers.

"Folks who choose to commit crimes, and hurt people and break things are no longer protesters. You lose your ability to call yourself a protester when you choose to harm people and destroy property."

Porter is the first of six officers to be tried in connection with the April arrest and death of Freddie Gray, which sparked rioting and looting across the city. All have pleaded not guilty.

Porter remains suspended without pay.

Rawlings-Blake said the city is prepared to respond to any scenario that may unfold.

"We will protect our residents. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses, and we will protect the safety of our first responders," the mayor said.

She called on all in the city to respect the judicial process.

"This is our American system of justice," she said. "Twelve Baltimore City residents answered the solemn call to serve. They listened to the evidence presented and they rendered a decision. If some choose to protest, they must peaceably demonstrate; that is their right."

The mayor noted that protesters called on the trials to be held in the city, saying "That means they put the case in the hands of Baltimore City residents. … Justice is not a verdict. Justice is a process that we have to protect."

Davis declined to provide the number of officers deployed. He said that many agencies from across Maryland have "come together in a very unique way." He said federal agencies have a role to play, but that the response "is a local law enforcement public safety effort."

Police continue to monitor social media for any signs of a disturbance, but as of early Wednesday evening, Davis said the department had not found any concerning posts.

Davis is expected to join faith leaders gathered in West Baltimore later Wednesday "as a show of unity and a show of peace."

Rawlings-Blake said city officials have "worked relentlessly" over the last eight months to lay the groundwork for a peaceful response to the trials.

"We will not and cannot be defined by the unrest of last spring," she said. "As a city, as a community, we are stronger and we are united to be better than what some displayed to the world in the spring."

ywenger@baltsun.com

twitter.com/yvonnewenger

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