The Frederick County Law Enforcement Center was the site of a “We Back Blue” event Saturday morning, drawing about 100 people to voice their support for the police. Across the street, protestors from groups such as Frederick United gathered to voice their opposition to Sheriff Chuck Jenkins’ policies and racial injustices in Frederick County.
Organizer Melissa Robey of Virginia said this is the 13th “We Back Blue” event she’s held since June 13.. According to her, this is the first time yet that she’s had protesters at an event.
“I’m not here say police lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter,” Robey said in an interview. “I’m not here using divisive language. To be honest with you, if somebody has had a bad experience with a police officer, I want to change that for them.”
Tempers flared after the protesters booed Jenkins during his address to the crowd. When attendees started to go over to the street to yell back, We Back Blue organizers got involved. Conversations quickly turned heated.
Attendees on both sides said they wanted to have respectful conversations so they could aim to bridge the gap. However, when emotions ran high and insults were thrown, those conversations were no longer possible.
By the end of the event around 1 p.m., the protesters had crossed the street and started to kneel and chant in the vicinity of the We Back Blue event, which had several speakers who shared their message of supporting law enforcement.
Isabella Lowery, 17, who is an organizer with Urbana Black Lives Matter Protest Organization, said she felt there wasn’t much progress made.
“The ignorance that we’ve seen, the fact that Chuck Jenkins isn’t wearing a mask trying to tell us what to do... I don’t know,” Lowery said. “There’s been a lot of arguing, a lot of yelling, not a lot of productive conversation. And that’s definitely frustrating. The people here do not want to listen.”
Johnny Mercer, with Frederick United, said when he and the first protestors arrived, he spoke with Robey and said they would be staying on the other side of the street during the event. That was until the protesters began to use airhorns and chanting “End 287(g)” and “Where’s your mask?” during Jenkins’ speech.
A few WBB organizers came to speak with Mercer. He was fine speaking with them until one man got too close to Lundy, without a mask, and Mercer intervened.
“We have no problem talking to adults,” Mercer said. “If you’re going to send childish people over to talk like children, or to talk to us like we’re children we’re not interested in talking to you.”
Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in outdoor situations where social distancing is not achievable, which went into enforcement on Friday evening.
Jenkins later commented that he didn’t see protesters at previous Black Lives Matter protests wearing masks, despite most events being branded mask-only events.
“Going back to all these protests, masks have never been a concern, some people wore masks, some people didn’t,” Jenkins said. “Some people were distanced, some weren’t. It’s hard to control.”
Tensions were already high in regards to mask-wearing, but things heated up when insults were flung by both sides. One man with a blue lives matter flag yelled, “Get a job, you can do it,” at the protesters. Meanwhile, a man on the WBB side was called a slur.
Robey said she didn’t see the point of arguing.
“Actually, when we went to Baltimore, we had Black Lives Matter come,” Robey said. “They actually didn’t scream and act like animals, they came to our event and they marched with us.”
After Robey made the comparison to animals, protesters expressed their frustration to her, saying the term is racist. Robey said that she called her children animals when they were misbehaving, and asked the protesters if they had taken it as “a Black thing."
“That [comment] is wrong across the board,” Frederick United organizer Kristen Lundy later said in an interview. “But if you really want to get down into the nitty gritty, in the Black and brown community we are often called animals whenever we are upset, angry, showing any type of emotion other than just being meek and docile.”
Akiyyah Billups with Frederick’s March for Justice was also upset by the comparison. She recalled how Michelle Obama was often depicted as a gorilla during the Obama administration.
“What does that do to the mindset of these young people and people of color?” Billups said.
The encounter left people on both sides of the argument feeling like they could not make progress.
“I think we are angry, and I think we need to change that narrative,” Billups said. “People are talking about their experiences, and the one thing that oppresses and frustrates and stagnates this movement is things like that that try to stop the momentum of the change that we’re requesting.”
Changing the narrative
Robey said she wants to change the narrative of police being agitators or corrupt. While she is from Virignia, she takes her efforts on the road to other states and cities because she wants to spread her message.
She has family in law enforcement and said the abuse they have seen recently has affected her deeply. She cited the murder of David Dorn, a retired African-American police officer in St. Louis, who was killed during a looting in June.
“David Dorn was the tipping hat for me, watching somebody who served 40 years and was left laying on the ground like a piece of garbage,” Robey said. “It was really hard. And I cried for two days when he died. Enough was enough.”
Robey thought the protesters were all anti-cop or wanted to abolish the police force entirely, citing Black Lives Matter as a trend that will soon die out. But many protesters said they are more interested in reforming the justice system and reallocating police funds to other public services.
“We’re not anti-police,” Billups said. “And we also meet with Frederick County Public Schools, I’ve met with the county executive, there’s a lot of change across multiple systems and institutions that need to take place and people are now rising up to get there.”
She also said she found it scary that Jenkins refused to address systemic racism in law enforcement, which he did several times during his speech and again in an interview with the News-Post.
“This whole conversation ... ‘defund the police’ is absolutely ludicrous,” he told the crowd. “We don’t need police reform. We need society to reform on how they respect the police.”
He said the majority of instances of use of force are a result of people not knowing how to respect the police. He later amended that there are some instances of excessive use of force, but he does not see that problem in Frederick County.
Casie Chang, who came to attend the We Back Blue event, said she actually learned a lot from the protesters. After tensions continued to climb, the protesters crossed the street and took a knee on the lawn where the We Back Blue rally was held. More arguments ensued, in which Lundy made a hurtful comment to one of Chang’s friends, and Chang fired back at Lundy.
But after the event ended around 1 p.m., Chang wanted to apologize to Lundy.
Lundy also apologized to Chang and they began to discuss their beliefs and what they were hoping to achieve in the future. One of the topics they both agreed on and think they could work on together was making the Sheriff’s Office’s budget public so they can see how taxpayer funds are allocated in the county.
Chang also walked away understanding the call to defund the police, which is rooted in trying to allocate police funds to other public institutions.
“I know when I hear defund the police I’m thinking somebody doesn’t want them around, and talking to Kristen and her group, that’s not what they’re saying. They do realize the importance of the police.
After the event, Mercer spoke with Jenkins and suggested they have a dialogue. Jenkins said his door was always open, and Mercer and some other members of Frederick United plan to take him up on the offer.
Meanwhile, Chang, who is a self-proclaimed Trump supporter, said she would love to have Frederick United meet with the Frederick County Republicans Club. While Frederick United does not associate with a party, Lundy agreed a dialogue or even a town hall could be beneficial.
The way Chang sees it, both groups are wanting similar things. She doesn’t want her loved ones who are police officers to be harmed. Lundy, Billups and so many other protesters don’t want people of color to be brutalized by the police.
The question is how to move toward that future.
“That’s really the problem that’s going on today as a whole, is that none of us – and I’m just as guilty as everybody else – we’re not taking the time to listen to one another. We’re all so worried about defending ourselves,” Chang said. “So I think it’s time that people start coming together and listening. I think we would all start realizing that we’re all really kind of fighting for the same thing for the most part. But because we’re not listening, we don’t know that.”