A day after he was heckled by residents in West Baltimore, former Gov. Martin O'Malley visited a church in the area Wednesday to help distribute food to people affected by this week's riots.
Inside St. Peter Claver and St. Pius V Catholic Church in Sandtown-Winchester, O'Malley stuffed bunches of greens into plastic bags and greeted residents. He posed for photos with some of them as dozens of volunteers handed out apples, cans of beans and corn, and bags of onions.
The former Baltimore mayor canceled a trip to Ireland this week to be in the city amid unrest after the death of Freddie Gray. The national spotlight on policing issues in Baltimore could complicate O'Malley's pitch as a successful, tough-on-crime mayor who turned the city around.
But O'Malley, a likely Democratic presidential contender, defended his policies on policing when he spoke with reporters at the food distribution event, which was sponsored by the No Boundaries Coalition.
"In all my years of mayor I never had one community leader ever ask for less of a police presence in their neighborhood," he said.
He said his stance on crime helped save lives.
"Our city has for the last 15 years been pushing back and driving down violent crime," he said. "Every mayor in his or her time does their very best to get the balance right, to save as many lives as possible."
When he toured damage in the neighborhood Tuesday, some residents had reportedly heckled O'Malley, blaming the zero-tolerance policies he enacted as mayor for the violence that has broken out in Baltimore this week.
O'Malley said Wednesday that heckling "goes with the territory of being a city mayor, or politics in the city."
"I was most heartened by the number of people that were glad to see me," he said. "And I was glad that I had gotten back to the city as quickly as I could."
Outside the church, members of the No Boundaries Coalition distributed flyers to residents about a West Baltimore Community Commission police-brutality forum in May, asking them to report personal experiences of police misconduct and harassment.
O'Malley said he came to the city because he "wanted to be with the people that I love and the people that I served for all of my professional life, really."
"We're all heartbroken," he said.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who campaigned as O'Malley's "partner in progress" when she was City Council president, said she believes O'Malley's pain is genuine. "I'm sure his heart truly is heavy," said Dixon, who in 2009 was convicted of stealing gift cards intended for the poor and forced to resign.
Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.