A day after six police officers in Baltimore were injured when mostly peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray turned violent, police supporters held a rally sunday in Annapolis that was planned months ago.
United for Blue, a group formed by two wives of police officers to support law enforcement and unite police with the communities they serve, drew honks and clapping from passersby as about 100 participants made their way to Lawyer's Mall. Two kilted bagpipers from the Shields of Montgomery announced the group's presence as members walked the brick streets, signs in hand.
Founders Kelly Wince and Bobbie Padgett said they had planned the rally because they were tired of hearing disparaging talk about police.
"We're here to say thank you and let them know the community cares about them," Wince said.
While the event wasn't initiated in response to weeklong protests in Baltimore over the death of Gray, a 25-year-old man who sustained a spinal cord injury in police custody and died a week later, the violence Saturday further galvanized the group.
"The officers getting spit on and having lit trash cans thrown at them are the same ones who, if that same person had a heart attack and collapsed, would risk their lives to save them," Wince said.
"Would you lay your life in the line for someone who spit on you and said horrible things about your family? I couldn't."
Officers from around the region assisted Baltimore police during Saturday's demonstrations. Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Saturday that officers were brought in from Maryland State Police as well as Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
At Sunday's rally, Maryland Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Canales thanked survivors of officers killed in the line of duty who were in attendance. In 21 years as a police officer, Canales said, "I have buried many friends and handled numerous cases where I have watched good people die," but returned home each night proud of his work.
Canales also called Gray's death a "tragic incident" and praised the protesters who demonstrated peacefully all week prior to Saturday night.
"The biggest thing we need to remember ... is that there is a process," Canales said. "You will have answers. Those answers may not make you happy, but you will have answers."
The police union president and other speakers acknowledged that there are some bad officers. "But I don't know anyone who puts on a uniform in the morning and goes out the door and wants to hurt someone," he said.
Tom Jensen, 68, told the group that his son, Tommy, a Prince George's County officer, was killed in a car accident while responding to a burglary in 2010. Jensen, who retired after 45 years as an officer in the same department, said he has seen a drop in the public's regard for police.
"The job has always been dangerous," he said. "But it hasn't always been thankless."
State Del. David E. Vogt III, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said he stumbled on the rally while having lunch with a friend in Annapolis.
"Time and God had a plan for me to be here," he said, then joked, "I had no idea why I put on a blue shirt."
Padgett, the United for Blue president, choked up as she thanked attendees for their support.
"As my 4-year-old twin daughters always say, 'Be safe,'" she said.