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Supporters of police rally in front of Baltimore City Hall

Some 150 supporters of the Baltimore Police Department marched in the sweltering midday heat Saturday and chanted "Blue lives matter" in front of City Hall, at a time when officers say they are facing unfair scrutiny as they try to do their jobs.

Terry Bowman, 59, said she had seen her husband, a member of the Harford County sheriff's office, get hurt during the unrest that swept Baltimore in April after the death of Freddie Gray.

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"I'm here to show respect," she said. "I'm here to show that I feel strongly."

Police morale sank after six officers were charged in connection with the death of the 25-year-old Gray, who suffered fatal injuries after being arrested in April and transported to the Western District station. On Thursday the police union said in a statement that its members fear being held criminally responsible even if they take steps to enforce the law in good faith.

Amid lingering tension and plummeting arrest rates, violence has spiked across the city, and in May 40 people have been killed in Baltimore, the deadliest month since 1990. Many of the demonstrators questioned why those deaths have not attracted the same level of outrage as Gray's.

Bob Frisch, 60, a retired city police sergeant who wore his badge on a neck chain, said the only way to overcome crime is for police to work closely with the community and if officers feel empowered to take guns out of the hands of criminals.

"There's a real concern among the active duty that any action they take might be second-guessed," Frisch said.

For the most part, the demonstrators spoke in general terms about wanting to support the difficult job police are asked to do. But some held signs showing support for the officers charged in Gray's death — they face a range of charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter — and one poster read "#saveoursix."

Col. Darryl D. DeSousa, the department's chief of patrol, greeted the demonstrators at the end of the rally and was cheered on when he posed for photographs with them. He said that police morale is starting to recover and that events like Saturday's demonstration will help.

"It's a breath of fresh air for us," he said, as demonstrators posed for a group photo behind him. Officers "see stuff like this, it motivates them."

A smaller group of about a dozen people held a counter-demonstration at the edge of the City Hall plaza. When they first arrived, the two groups clashed, yelling in one another's faces until police intervened. The two groups screamed at one another for the next two hours but remained peaceful — a detachment of body-armored police remained with their van and mostly out of sight.

The demonstrators in support of police, many of whom said they had relatives who are officers, marched around the square but would linger in front of the counter-protest on its south side. Brian Forster, 35, stopped to blare a chant of "Blue lives matter" through a megaphone and from the street another man let his motorbike engine roar, drowning out all other sound.

Julie Gomez, 50, one of the organizers of the rally and the wife of a Western District officer, approached some of the opposing protesters and was able to find some common ground, agreeing that more should be done to improve the lives of people in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"I have the utmost respect for them," Gomez said. "We have to get services to them."

But Gary Johnson, 28, one of the people Gomez had been talking to, said in an interview that it was disrespectful for supporters of the police to appropriate the popular "Black lives matter" protest slogan.

"Officers haven't been killed in Baltimore," he said. "Their fraternity is a profession, it's not a culture or a race of people."

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Eventually the counter-rally dispersed, leaving the square to the police and their supporters. And at the invitation of the demonstration's organizers, the officers who had been assigned to the protest squeezed in together for a smiling group photo.

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