ATLANTIC CITY — Patty Pish made her own sign to carry at a rally for police Friday on the Boardwalk.
In red ink, she wrote on the sign — “Please do not shoot our cops. Thank them for keeping us safe.” Along with the sign, she clutched an American flag. She smiled as she carried both items but spoke of the fear she has for the safety of law-enforcement personnel.
“I am just beside myself with the things that are happening out here. The things that are being said and done to police officers. We have good police officers here in the city,” said Pish, whose boyfriend is retired from the FBI.
For Pish, it's obvious that the public should support the police.
“Who do you call when you need help? The police,” Pish said.
Pish’s sentiment was shared by a crowd of about 200 people assembled Friday afternoon at Kennedy Plaza in front of Boardwalk Hall.
The rally was held as tensions mount across the country over the police-involved killings of black men and the recent murder of two on-duty New York City police officers in Brooklyn. The Atlantic City event was organized by John Baker, a retired orthopedic surgeon, who said earlier this week it was only about “supporting police and going forward toward a peaceful solution.” He said his march has “nothing to do with the issues in the papers.”
Last week, more than three dozen protesters shut down traffic at major intersections in Atlantic City in response to the killings by police of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri.
Organizers of that event included the police-involved shootings of Atlantic City residents Derreck Mack and Shawn Brown, as well as Alexis Yamil Perez, who was killed in Pleasantville, on fliers handed out at the protest.
Baker said he hopes Friday’s rally sends a message to the rest of the country and that other communities will speak out about the importance of law enforcement.
Baker said the solution to rectifying the turmoil in the United States is not hatred, because when people incite others to harm their community, it’s wrong. The police are the barrier between chaos and order, he said.
He criticized people staging anti-police protests and committing acts of violence against officers.
“And who are they throwing under the bus? They’re throwing under the bus the men and women who we depend on, the men and women who put on their uniforms, their badges and leave their houses and then go out into their community every day trying to the best of their ability to do what’s right,” Baker said.
He said police officers make decisions on the spur of the moment and no one can do that job perfectly. He told the crowd if they want to know how dangerous the job of a police officer is they should ask the families of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were gunned down one week ago while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn.
“By and large our police departments do their job and they deserve respect, and that is why we are here today. Going forward, I hope and pray we have no hatred, cool heads and fact-based dialogue to resolve the problems that face our community today,” he told the crowd.
Mayor Don Guardian told the crowd it was ironic that as the world marked the birth of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, people are still praying for peace on Earth.
Guardian said he is proud of the Atlantic City Police Department and he has seen how hard they have worked to engage the community. He said in the past year the department has reduced incidents of use of force and decreased the number of people bringing complaints to Internal Affairs by 35 percent.
“The men and women of every police department get up at night and expect to go home, but we put them in harm’s way and sometimes it’s just not right. The assassinations (of the New York officers) is very, very hard to understand this past weekend. Two police officers whose lives were taken for no reason,” Guardian said.
Egg Harbor Township police Chief Michael Morris and Galloway Township police Chief Pat Moran stood with Atlantic City police Chief Henry White on the stage at the rally. The chiefs said between the two mainland departments about a dozen officers attended the rally.
White told the crowd it’s a tough time to be in law enforcement.
“We all know when the chips are down and society offers the worst it has to offer or when there’s a crisis, it’s either the police, fire department, or EMTs that are going to come to the rescue,” White said.
Morris said the offshore departments are standing with Atlantic City because what happens in the city affects all towns. Moran said killings such as those of the NYPD officers can happen anywhere, not just in urban areas.
“We’re here because we would like to voice our support of Atlantic City’s finest and voice our support for brothers and sisters of our most noble profession who stand and serve on the thin blue line,” Morris told the crowd.
Leathur Rokk, of Atlantic City, attended the rally after hearing about it on the radio. She said cops get a bad rap.
“We have really great cops, and they’re always there when you need them,” Rock said as she held a sign in support of police that was distributed Friday before the rally started by Atlantic City PBA President Paul Barbere.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said all too often people don’t realize how much communities rely on police.
Kevin Lyons, of Stafford Township, a retired Long Beach Township police officer, attended the rally and marched from Boardwalk Hall to the police memorial that was unveiled earlier this month at St. James Place and the Boardwalk. Lyons said he is not surprised that a large crowd attended the rally because there is support everywhere for law enforcement.
“There is a vocal minority that does not support us, and the televised media makes it worse in order to get ratings. I think a rally like this is more important to law enforcement than anyone would realize,” Lyons said.
Rose Guerrera, of Absecon, marched to the memorial with her family and said she worries about her husband’s safety every time he leaves for his job as a New Jersey State Police trooper. She said one of her sons was worried about attending the rally because he was scared someone would try to hurt the officers at the event.
“My other son wants to be a state trooper, and that scares me now more than ever,” she said.
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