EASTON — Well over a hundred Eastern Shore residents marched into downtown Easton on Sept. 18 for a ‘Back The Blue’ rally, voicing support for law enforcement, displaying pro-police signs and waving blue American flags at the Talbot County Courthouse

Many wore pro-Trump apparel and some hoisted large flagpoles with draping American flags. Messaging ranged from “Defend the police” and “the police are not criminals” to “we got your 6” and “defund the media.”

The first of the rally-goers arrived at 5 p.m., with the crowd at its peak around 6:30 p.m. before shortly thinning out. The rally stayed peaceful and within courthouse grounds for the duration of the event.

John Kuntz stood with his friends and lamented the recent shooting of two sheriffs in Los Angeles.

“The police are under attack and threatened, and they deserve our support,” he said.

Also gathered at the courthouse and supporting the rally were deputies from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Joe Gamble. Deputies took pictures with their supporters and talked with them.

More than halfway through the rally, Gamble whistled and got everyone’s attention.

“Everybody, I want to thank you for showing up and encouraging us,” he said. “I want to introduce Ashley Strickland-Sard, she’s the one who organized this. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Strickland-Sard stood in a sea of American flags and blue and black colors. She explained why the rally was “so important” to have at a moment when many in the country are protesting against law enforcement and police brutality.

“With everything going on right now, our Talbot County officers needed to see how much love, support and respect they do have,” she said. “And once again, thank you guys — stand up, stand tall and be heard.”

After the death of George Floyd in May while in police custody in Minneapolis, “Black Lives Matter” protests against police brutality have led to anti-police sentiment, with some calling out systemic racism within police departments and seeking to defund the police. “Blue Lives Matter” rallies have sprouted up across the country in response, arguing the police protect the country and risk their lives everyday to uphold the law and keep communities safe.

Among the “Back the Blue” supporters was Larry W. Smith, a 70-year-old Easton resident and “decorated Vietnam veteran.” He stood atop the courthouse steps in a bright red jacket and cowboy hat, and said the police sometimes make mistakes but are still here to protect and serve.

“How many errors have you made? We all learn from our mistakes,” he said. “These police make sacrifices everyday. I’m here to support these boys.”

Many came out to support local police departments in particular. Lydia Pinkney, a domestic violence survivor, said she owes her life to the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office.

“Without these officers, I would not be here today. And the sheriff’s office have made sure my kids stay away from drugs,” she said. “You have your good and you have your bad, but they are all doing their job. I support them.”

While no counter-protesters showed up, a few displayed signs that argued you can support both racial justice and the police. Mary Yancey displayed a sign that read, “Yes, and Black Lives also Matter.”

“I value what the police do, and it’s a difficult and dangerous job,” said the Easton resident. “But there needs to be a conversation about the way policing is handled. It would be a benefit to the police as well. It’s not an ‘either or’, it’s an ‘and.’”

The debate over policing has called into question systemic racism in the criminal justice system and other institutions, and, in some communities, there is a divide over age, class and racial lines on whether that exists.

Many at the Easton rally were older and white, but some who showed up were black, including Glenn Butler, a retired forensic scientist.

“There are some bad apples and I support more training,” Butler said. “But we shoot a lot of black people too, and that doesn’t make the news. So I can see both sides.”

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