Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, in a statement this week, condemned the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and encouraged those planning to attend protests next week to do so peacefully.
The right to peaceably protest is guaranteed by the Constitution, Gahler said in a statement posted to the sheriff’s office Facebook page, but the “criminal acts” witnessed at the Capitol building were “egregious,” and those who participated should be held responsible.
“When individuals resort to criminal actions, they must be held accountable,” he said. “Sadly, this is not a belief that has been embraced in so many places over the past 12 months or a belief espoused by many of our elected leaders until now.”
Gahler, a Republican, added that criminal acts perpetrated over the past year “were also egregious,” and offenders should be held responsible.
“Those offenders, all of those offenders, should be prosecuted for the crimes they committed, the police officers they assaulted, the property they damaged, and the lives they destroyed,” he said.
The sheriff did not specify what criminal acts he was referring to. Over the past year, protests over George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers roiled the nation. The protests prompted many cities to impose curfews, and in Minneapolis, a police station was set on fire. Several have been charged in connection to the fire.
In the wake of Floyd’s killing, hundreds of people gathered in front of the sheriff’s office headquarters in Bel Air to protest, and many more took to the streets in Baltimore. The demonstrations in Baltimore, which lasted more than a week, were spotlighted as examples of peaceful protest.
Gahler’s statement comes against the backdrop of the FBI’s warning that armed protests are planned in all 50 states and Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day. Gahler urged those planning to attend planned protests to do so peacefully.
“As we move into the days leading up to the Inauguration, please remember, as citizens of the United States of America, we do not use violence to settle our differences,” Gahler said. “If you choose to exercise your Constitutional right to participate in any planned protest, I implore you to do so peacefully. I will always defend your rights as law abiding citizens, but once you choose to violate the law and resort to violence and chaos, law and order must and will prevail.”