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Group holds rally to support Baltimore police

About 40 people gathered outside City Hall for a rally to support Baltimore police Saturday.
About 40 people gathered outside City Hall for a rally to support Baltimore police Saturday. (Jessica Anderson, Baltimore Sun)

Watching the riots unfold in the city this spring, retired Baltimore police officer Lavonde Alston said she felt the urge to go out and join her former colleagues.

"I almost wanted to put my uniform on and go out with them," she said. But other days, Alston is glad she is no longer policing, citing what she feels is a lack of support for officers from the public as well as from city officials and departmental leaders.

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On Saturday, she was one of several dozen retired officers and others who rallied outside City Hall to show support for Baltimore police.

They gathered for pictures with uniformed officers who were assigned to the event, while a group of students from Victory Martial Arts performed in the War Memorial Plaza. Others stood at the corner of Gay and Fayette streets, holding up signs that read "Hold that Line" and "Don't Throw Police Under the Bus." Some motorists honked their horns to express support as they drove by.

Since the death of Freddie Gray sparked days of protests that turned violent on April 27, the Baltimore Police Department has come under intense scrutiny and criticism.

Six officers were charged in Gray's death. The U.S. Department of Justice announced a full-scale civil rights investigation into use of force by Baltimore police. Their leader, Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, was fired by the mayor last week. The number of arrests has fallen while violence, particularly homicides, has sharply risen.

Many at the rally expressed frustration with city and police leadership, saying they felt officers were endangered and given conflicting orders during the unrest. But they also believe police left the city unprotected, resulting in further destruction. About 160 officers were injured in the riots.

"There is no morale," said Alston, 46, who retired in 2002, speaking of her former colleagues who remain with the department. "You can actually see the hurt in their face. They were completely abandoned. Take away the uniform, you have all human beings out there."

Batts and several top commanders have denied that they were directed to allow rioters to destroy the city but acknowledge that they directed officers to prioritize life over property. Some officers have said more should have been done to stop the rioters and make arrests.

Alston said that while she admired the officers' self-control in following orders, it would have been difficult for her to stand by while people were looting and destroying the city.

"To do nothing, I've never seen anything like that. They did the best they could do with what they had," Alston said.

She said the violence was not a response to Gray's death but provided an opportunity for people to take advantage of the situation.

But despite all the criticism facing the department, she said "I'm proud to be a part of it."

Saturday's rally was the second pro-police demonstration organized by Karen Walker, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mother who started the Facebook page, Stand Up For Baltimore City Police.

Walker, who wore a "Blue Lives Matter" tank top she had made herself, said she felt compelled to start the group after watching on TV as rioters hurled stones at police officers.

Within hours of creating the page, she said, it had garnered 1,000 "likes." Since creating the page and organizing the events, Walker said she's received dozens of letters of gratitude from officers, some of whom spent long shifts working during the worst of the violence, she said.

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In May, some 150 people gathered to show their support for police and were met by a counter-demonstration. But no other demonstrators came out on Saturday.

Terry Bowman, whose husband is a Harford County sheriff's deputy, came out to both events. "I feel it's my way to give back," she said on Saturday.

Bowman said her husband was in Baltimore for four days during the riots, while she kept a close eye on the media coverage, hoping he would remain safe and calm would be restored.

She held a sign she and her 8-year-old granddaughter had decorated the day before. It read, "His job is to protect the streets. My job is to support him. Hold that Line."

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