Northeastern District police officers and city youths gathered Saturday afternoon for community bonding over baseball at Northwood Baseball Field.
The game, intended to connect officers and young people, is the first of its kind in the district, said Marques Dent, an event organizer and a trustee of the Northwood Baseball League board. It was part of a larger Community Day with live entertainment, food and youth activities.
"Since we had national coverage given the unrest in our city, why not use our national pastime to rebuild, reorganize and re-engage each other?" said Dent, who is running for the 3rd District City Council seat.
The event — which involved about eight officers and over a dozen youths — offered an opportunity for officers and young people to become acquainted in a friendly environment and to develop mutual respect and trust, Dent said.
"The first time you come in contact with an officer shouldn't be because of something negative," he said. "The main thing we wanted to accomplish today was to rebuild that connection, solidify that connection, and then put that on display for everyone to see."
Maj. Richard Worley said having everyone wear matching T-shirts helped to humanize law enforcement officers, whose uniforms can intimidate and cause apprehension in young people.
"We just kind of blended in because we didn't come in uniforms," he said.
Christopher Dockins, 14, said playing with officers was a good way for young people to see officers in a new light.
"It feels good to be with the people that protect us in the streets," said Christopher, whose father is a police officer.
Jemar Burden, 15, said some of his peers distrust the police since the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died after being injured while in police custody in April. Jemar said playing baseball with the officers Saturday changed his perception.
"It shows that not all police officers are bad," he said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake threw the first pitch for the game and stayed for about an hour, Dent said.
"This event is one of many that occur across the city that demonstrate the committment many of our officers have to the city, and specifically our young people," the mayor said in a statement. "It was a great day to showcase that committment and have our youth interact in a positive way with the men and women working so hard to keep our city safe."
Dent said the event would not be the last for cops and kids in Northeast Baltimore.
"That's the Officer Friendly mentality we have to have with our young people," he said. "I feel like this is going to catapult us into a much stronger community space."