PHILADELPHIA (AP) — About 200 people braved temperatures below freezing to attend a rally near Philadelphia's Independence Hall in support of local law enforcement officers.
Pennsylvania Republicans Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Pat Meehan spoke at Saturday's Delaware Valley Pro-Blue Rally, which was sponsored by the conservative Independence Hall Foundation but billed as a nonpartisan event.
"For one day, one hour, we suspend our political differences for an exceptional cause to honor, thank and proudly stand with our Delaware Valley Police officers," foundation president Teri Adams said.
The killings of two unarmed black men by white police officers in Missouri and in New York last summer touched off protests and a national debate over police conduct that intensified after grand juries declined to indict the officers. Tensions escalated further after two New York police officers were killed while sitting in their patrol car Dec. 20 by a man who suggested in online posts their slayings were in retaliation for the earlier deaths.
Toomey told the crowd that 115 police officers were killed on the job in 2014, and only 10 days into the new year, 10 officers have been shot nationwide.
"When we see protesters out in the streets, making outrageous statements, slandering our police officers, propagating absurd and false narrative about these brave men and women who protect us, I can understand how that can be demoralizing for the police officers who have to watch that happen," he said.
"But I want you to know: Those protesters don't speak for America."
Meehan referred to the refrain of many protesters in the nationwide protests, "Black lives matter," as he also voiced support for the work of police officers.
"We know what it means, every day, to say that police officers put themselves on the line protecting us," he said. "All lives matter."
The rally concluded with the playing of "Taps" in honor of the two slain New York officers.
Ron and Jamie Maerz took the train in from Abington to attend the rally. They held handmade signs that read "All lives matter" and "We support our local police." The 'o' in police had a mustache and police hat, an addition made by their daughter.
"We just want to show our police our support and thank them for what they've done," Ron Maerz said. "They help us, defend us, protect us and serve us, and they've just been vilified."
Jamie Maerz acknowledged that her feet were frozen after standing in 25 degree weather for more than 60 minutes.
"Our police suffer a lot more in weather worse than this," she said. "This is the least we can do."
The Reading Eagle reports that hundreds braved the cold in the eastern Pennsylvania city to show support for law enforcement officers in Reading and Berks County.
Trish Wertz, widow of slain Reading officer Scott Wertz, said she helped organize the rally to help counter the negative publicity that police officers have received nationwide.