With thousands of people expected in Havre de Grace for this weekend's War of 1812 Commemoration and Decoy show festivities, local emergency officials – working in concert with their county, state and federal counterparts – have stepped up safety measures for the three-day event.
The War of 1812 event commemorates the 200th anniversary of the British attack on Havre de Grace in May 1813, and scores of local, state and federal dignitaries have been invited.
Gov. Martin O'Malley had been scheduled to attend Saturday evening's ceremony, which includes a symphony performance and fireworks over the Susquehanna River, but has canceled his appearance.
O'Malley's communications director, Raquel Guillory, confirmed Thursday the governor would not be attending.
Organizers of an 1800s-style service at St. John's Church – which was looted by British troops – had invited former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Sunday's service, but church member Camay Calloway Murphy said Thursday he would not be attending either.
Abdul-Jabbar is also known for his interest in African-American life during the colonial period in America, and an article he wrote for American Legacy Magazine in the late 1990s about Crispus Attucks, who was an escaped slave and was among those killed by British troops during the Boston Massacre in 1770, will be on display.
"His presence will be here in some way, but not in person," Murphy said.
The attack commemoration activities, including a recreation of the battle, coupled with the city's annual Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival and two tall ships docked along the waterfront, could bring many more people than typically attend single community events.
Security planners estimate 30,000 to 60,000 people could be in Havre de Grace this weekend, according to a 43-page "Final Briefing Packet" provided to emergency and other personnel and obtained by The Aegis.
Havre de Grace Police Chief Teresa Walter said Thursday, "with the sheer number of people we anticipate coming into the city," officials increased the security presence.
The chief said planners are "mindful" of last month's bombings at the Boston Marathon, but she stressed the larger-than-normal crowds were the main driver.
"We were very mindful of what had occurred in Boston, but that wasn't the full driving factor behind increasing the number of personnel that will be in the city," she explained.
The security briefing also mentioned a rally organized by the Harford County Campaign for Liberty and the Maryland Liberty Political Action Committee, to capitalize on the governor's presence at an event celebrating the actions of armed civilian militias to defend Havre de Grace, and protest strict gun control policies recently approved by the Maryland General Assembly.
"We are protesting the hypocrisy of Governor O'Malley's policies toward the 2nd Amendment, as he commends our citizen militias of 1812-1814," Joe Fleckenstein, a member of the Campaign for Liberty's steering committee, wrote in an e-mail published in The Aegis this week.
The briefing noted Havre de Grace police officials had spoken with the rally organizers and informed them the governor would not be attending.
"We have been in touch with the folks who are putting on the rally; they want a very peaceful rally," Walter said. "They're not looking for confrontation or anything like that."
Organizers have decided to still hold the rally, which is scheduled to take place from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday near the Concord Point Lighthouse.
"We stand by our position that Governor O'Malley's stance on gun control would have caused us to lose the War of 1812 if he had been Governor & implemented his anti-gun agenda," organizers stated on their website, hdggunrally.com. "Please come out, exercise your 1st amendment right & celebrate the war of 1812 in beautiful Havre de Grace."
A number of streets downtown will be closed for the War of 1812 events. Walter encouraged visitors to park in the National Guard armory lot off Old Bay Lane, and take a free shuttle to downtown – she noted the shuttle will stop at the Decoy Festival at Havre de Grace Middle School.
The police chief also encouraged visitors to alert law enforcement if they see any unsafe or suspicious activity.
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"We do have a lot of special events, so we do want people to pay attention to what's going on, just from a personal safety standpoint," she said.