2021 | News

‘We Back Blue’ holds rally outside police headquarters hoping to boost officer morale

Rally was rescheduled from last month

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More than 30 people gathered at Montgomery County police headquarters in Gaithersburg on Sunday to show their support for law enforcement.

Photos by Dan Schere

More than 30 people rallied outside the Montgomery County police headquarters in Gaithersburg on Sunday to show solidarity for police officers in the county.

The rally was organized by We Back Blue, a national organization formed last year to show support for law enforcement amid scrutiny of officers over alleged police brutality and social justice protests.

Susie Brown-Butler, a Germantown resident who helped organize Sunday’s event, told the crowd that her father, Cpl. Raymond Brown, was a Montgomery County officer in the 1960s and ’70s who was shot in the line of duty. He survived, but the memory stays with her.

Susie Brown-Butler

Brown-Butler said “things were a bit better back then” with public opinion of law enforcement, but even as a child, she was taunted and teased by other kids because of her father’s work.

“At least my dad wasn’t bombarded with such statements as ‘do you really have the right to return fire and shoot the perpetrator…?’ I fear that that could have been a question asked today,” she said.

Sunday’s event was held in a plaza for police officers adjacent to the police building and a small lake. Some participants wore shirts with American flags. A few wore shirts with flags adorned with the “thin blue line” — a blue strip bisecting the flag lengthwise that has come to be associated with solidarity for law enforcement. An American flag and a thin blue line flag posted side-by-side at the rally site on Sunday.

Tim Parrish, the director of government relations for We Back Blue and a former D.C. police officer, said in an interview before the event that officers simply want to be appreciated for their work. He said his organization is nonpartisan and isn’t necessarily against all changes proposed in police departments, as has been done in Montgomery County.

“We’re not anti-reform. Sure, as times change and culture changes and the environment changes, reforms are not a bad thing. But we want reforms that ensure that police officers’ work is done effectively and efficiently. If it’s making it harder to do public safety, we do take issue with that,” he said.

Mariela Roca, a Frederick resident who is running as a Republican in the 2022 primary for the Maryland’s eighth congressional district, said on Sunday that she worries about the calls from activists to “defund the police.”

“There are people that actually want to support and don’t want to defund the police. My brother’s a police officer in Massachusetts and I’m seeing how these attacks on police officers are affecting him and his families, and it’s just got to stop,” she said.

During the rally, Brown-Butler read from a letter she said was written by the daughter of a current Montgomery County police officer, expressing frustration with the way officers have been portrayed recently.

In an interview afterward, Brown-Butler said the memory of her dad being shot when she was a child still affects her.

“The priest gave him his last rites, and I was 12 years old at the time. The person who was with him when he was shot knocked on my door and let me know what a brave man he was, and I really thought he was dead. It’s something that affected me my entire life,” she said.

Brown-Butler said she gets upset when she hears an officer was shot in the line of duty. Not everyone understands, she said.

“I would say, ‘You didn’t go through what my family went through. You don’t know how it was to get that phone call and think your dad was gone,’” she said.

Brown-Butler said she hasn’t been pleased with County Executive Marc Elrich’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative, and the recent elimination of the school resource officer program. Elrich did not include money to continue the program following legislation from council members proposing to do away with it.

In February, the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force on police made 87 recommendations related to policing, including crisis training for recruits and an emphasis on Taser use. The group also wants to eliminate the use of school-based police officers. 

Elrich formed the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force last summer to audit policies, procedures and data from the police department “in response to the nationwide and local furor over racial justice,” according to a summary in the report.

Students and other social justice activists have argued that having officers in schools has led students of color being disciplined at disproportionately high rates. Principals, however, have urged the county to keep officers in schools.

Brown-Butler said she’s only heard stories of positive results from having officers in schools.

“The police are there to protect our children. I truly don’t believe they’re picking on anyone. Every child I’ve talked to has had a good relationship with the officers,” she said.

“There are bad people in every profession, and you don’t see people going around hating them. But a police officer makes one wrong mistake, or one perceived wrong mistake, and it’s hate, and it just really bothers me.”

Melissa Robey, the founder of We Back Blue, said in an interview Sunday that the rally was scheduled for Aug. 7, but the event was moved due to both scheduling conflicts and to show sensitivity for those angered by the death of Ryan LeRoux, a 21-year-old man fatally shot by four officers on July 16 outside a McDonald’s in Gaithersburg.

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office is investigating the shooting under a reciprocal agreement between the two counties.

“I wanted to be a little sensitive to that. I know that there were high emotions and people were having a tough time,” Robey said.

She said the goal of the rally and similar events the group has hosted is to “talk about what law enforcement means to their communities” and help restore morale for law enforcement.

“I don’t think that 99 people should pay because one person decided that they wanted to do something stupid,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com