With larger-than-average crowds expected to converge downtown for two opposing rallies on immigration issues Sunday, Frederick police said they will be ready with more officers in highly visible posts.
“We’ve got additional officers coming in to help with regular patrol duties as well as officers to patrol specifically in those areas. They are going to be in mostly overt positions, meaning that they’ll be highly visible,” said Michele Bowman, a spokeswoman for the Frederick Police Department.
The rallies will focus on immigration issues and specifically the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office’s partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the 287(g) program. The 287(g) program, which was implemented in Frederick County in 2008, provides training for sheriff’s deputies by ICE that allows deputies to ask the immigration status of anyone booked into the detention center and, if appropriate, begin deportation proceedings.
While supporters of the measure say it increases public safety and discourages street gangs such as MS-13, others decry the program as anti-immigrant and claim it discourages members of immigrant communities from reporting crimes to law enforcement.
Supporters of 287(g) will gather at the Baker Park Band Shell from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and opponents will meet at the amphitheater on Carroll Creek from 2 to 4 p.m., according to separate flyers announcing the rallies.
While the rallies will revolve around a contentious issue — 287(g) steering committee meetings held in previous years have drawn vocal protesters and counter-protesters to Winchester Hall — the police department was less concerned about the topic of discussion than the size of the crowds expected, said Capt. Dwight Sommers.
“It’s not because of the rally. We would do this for any event,” Sommers said, saying the department was handling the rallies in much the same way it would handle a street festival or other event designed to draw a crowd to the city. “We provide additional staffing based on events happening within the city as a normal, routine course of our operations.”
As of Friday, the department was estimating spending as much as $25,000 to pay for added officers and police staff to handle the influx of people downtown, Sommers said, before quickly adding that the expense will likely be far less, as the initial estimate was based on an eight-hour detail, which not every employee will work.
Despite the fact that police have gotten no indication that the rallies will be anything but peaceful, the department and city officials worked with organizers from both sides to determine separate locations for each group to gather in order to discourage possible confrontations and help the events proceed smoothly, Bowman said.
“Obviously, safety is our biggest concern,” Bowman said. “We just want to make sure everyone is able to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech in as peaceful a manner as possible.”
No marches or other activities were planned for either event that would cause street closings, but Frederick police did plan to close West Second Street between West College Avenue and North Bentz Street from about 10 a.m. until the end of the rally in the band shell. Sommers described the closing as a routine precaution that the department takes for any large event planned for Baker Park.
A joint statement released Friday by Mayor Michael O’Connor and County Executive Jan Gardner also emphasized their desire for the rally participants to remain orderly and peaceful despite the contentious nature of the 287(g) program.
“As people gather for rallies on Sunday [Oct. 6], we ask all our residents and visitors to be respectful, peaceful and civil toward each other,” the statement reads in part. “Let’s be a model for productive public discourse based on facts and truth, kindness and goodwill.”
Speakers were planned at both events Sunday. Key speakers at the rally at the Baker Park Band Shell will include Tom Homan, former acting director of ICE, as well as Cheng Tu, chair of the Maryland Chinese American Network Political Action Committee, and Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
“One of our biggest focuses is public safety,” said Mark Schaff, the former president of the Republican Club of Frederick County who was helping to organize the rally in support of the 287(g) program. “We continue to see these guys, criminal illegal aliens, guys who have been convicted and have a warrant out for them or a detainer, and they are raging havoc within the community, even within the immigrant community.”
The opposing rally being held at the Carroll Creek amphitheater, dubbed the “Unity Rally” by its organizers with the Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment (RISE) Coalition of Western Maryland, will also feature its own speakers, including Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the Americans for Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, Mayor O’Connor and city Alderman Ben MacShane.
“All of our speakers are going to be talking about how we’re an inclusive community,” said Mary Ann Ford, a member of RISE’s rally organizing committee. “We’re really here to celebrate our immigrant community as well as to make a strong statement that Frederick County is an inclusive community. Frederick is not a place that supports hateful anti-immigration messages and fear-mongering. ... We believe this community must stand against that.”