House Republicans Rally in Support of Police, Blast Democrats Who Call for Defunding

    Women with a thin blue line flag watch as Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) speaks at a rally in support of law enforcement. Photo by Hannah Gaskill

    Nearly 100 people gathered outside of the Maryland House of Delegates building in Annapolis Thursday in a call for their representatives to maintain funding and support for state and local law enforcement officers.

    Hosted by Dels. Sid Saab (R-Anne Arundel) and Haven C. Shoemaker (R-Carroll), Republican lawmakers and police officials showed their support for officers in the field who have faced loud and very public criticism following the death of George Floyd at the feet of Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

    “Every time they go out, and they’re doing work and they leave behind their wives, their husbands, their kids, their loved ones — they know the risks, and what we’re doing now in this world is not just the risks of they might get hurt, not the risks they might get shot trying to protect us,” said Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany). “We’re now creating the risks that their lives may be ruined, they may be tarred and feathered forever, because they were just trying to do their job to protect themselves, to protect their fellow officers, to protect us — and it’s not good enough for somebody with a cell phone camera.” 

    Since Floyd’s death nearly two-months ago, protests have erupted across the country calling for the defunding and abolition of police agencies, which House Republicans decried Thursday.

    Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) called Floyd’s death “tragic” and “indefensible.”

    “But it should have been a unifying tragedy,” he said. 

    Morgan accused Democrats of using this incident “as an “excuse to drive a political narrative” and “dismantle the police departments” — taking specific shots at legislators from Baltimore City who have joined in on those calls.

    “One-hundred eighty-five murders,” he said, providing an approximate count of murders in the city so far this year. “You know the last thing you need to be doing is defunding the police.” 

    The crowd erupted in applause.

    Shoemaker joined Morgan in lambasting Democratic lawmakers, saying that any “silly politician that blathers about defunding the police should have his or her security detail defunded.”

    Shoemaker took it a step further, knocking advocates’ cries to divert funding to public health and safety programs.

    “We want the noble men and women of law enforcement to know that the overwhelming silent majority of Marylanders feel that if some criminal is breaking into our houses, we don’t want a social worker dispatched to help the crook get in touch with his feelings,” he asserted. “We want you. With guns.”

    Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare also spoke at the rally. His message was one of support for current officers and a warning for citizens who support the police and protesters who call for their abolition.

    “Folks, something bad is happening in this country and in this county,” Altomare said. “There is no group of people in this country in its history that have done more for poor communities of color across this nation than the American policeman. Take it to the bank.”

    The largely white crowd cheered.

    Altomare announced Wednesday evening that he would be retiring from the post he’s held since 2014. Before serving on the Anne Arundel County Police Department for 21 years, he was a member of the Annapolis Police Department. His retirement is effective Aug. 1.

    “To be called ‘racist’ because I wear a uniform makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t do it anymore and be silent,” Altomare said. “That’s why I retired.”

    The police chief debunked rumors that Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) was “forcing” him out, saying that Pittman called him asking him not to resign.

    “So far, I think he’s trying to follow his heart, and I have immense respect for him as a human being,” he said. “I do think, however, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place, and the silence of the majority is not helping him at all to make good decisions about who are the good guys and who aren’t.”

    Altomare clarified in an op-ed published in the Capital Gazette this week that his retirement is also not in any way linked to a lawsuit surrounding a 2019 event in which Anne Arundel County police officers are alleged to have used excessive force.

    During the rally, Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees, who has known Altomare since his 2014 appointment, read the op-ed to the crowd. 

    Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees offered a final salute to Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare, who is retiring effective August 1.

    “There is a movement in this nation and in this county to remove the teeth of the police,” DeWees read. “It is wrong and it will have grave and lasting effects that you will see and feel.”

    Altomare wrote that the silence of constituents backs their elected officials into corners where they feel compelled to act on the word of those protesting.

    “The alternative is anarchy and entropy,” the op-ed reads.

    Altomare wrote that he is proud of the police force in Anne Arundel County, and hopes that officers will “continue to hold each other accountable and do it right.”

    “I’m not leaving because I want to,” the departing chief wrote. “I’m leaving because I will not be a part of a movement that endangers you or the people we’re sworn to protect.”

    Altomare told the crowd that he is “proud” of the “thin blue line,” and that just because it exists doesn’t mean that officers act immorally or unethically. He also asserted that it doesn’t mean they are perfect.

    “There’s 850,000 cops in this country,” he explained. “Of course we’re going to have some problems. So do elected officials; so do clergy; so does everybody else.”

    “We hold ourselves accountable and we do the right thing.”

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    Hannah Gaskill
    Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.