Hundreds of Prince George's County police stayed home from work yesterday morning without a strike vote, without demands, and in many cases, without reasons they could fully articulate.
There was nothing specific they hoped to achieve except, perhaps, to say something for once, to fight back. The verdict in the Johnson case was only part of it. The media, they said, had misrepresented them. The cheif had added rules that hobbled them, and the county executive had not supported them.
Most of all they sensed that, somehow, they had been cut off from their own community. The verdict told them the citizens no longer understood them.
"It's like having something stuck in your throat and you don't know how to clear it," said one officer at the Seat Pleasant station yesterday morning.
"I don't care if you're black or white or blue or green," said another, black officer. "The smallest minority is the police. No one likes us."
"It wasn't just the shooting that was too much," said a third officer, Steven bigelow. "It was all this junk since the mid-70s. No matter what we do they say the same thing.
"We're killed, shot at, bitten, abused, and nobody comes forth to support us. They restrict us and handcuff as and expect us to do our job. They kill two of our friends then say that's okay,too."
Yesterday became a day for the rank-and-file officers to decompress, to tell Police Executive Lawrence J. Hogan what they had been telling each other for months. The result was a long, sometimes stormy meeting in a field behind the police lodge in Upper Marlboro.
Before Hogan and Rhoads showed up. Tom Lennon, a private, voiced the police point of view. "We're police officers because we care," he roared at the hundreds of officers who had huddled under a wooden pavillion to avoid the morning drizzle.
"But when we look around now in the community, it seems like no one cares about us."
When Hogan joined the crowd to answer questions the belligerence began in earnest. Across the field 70 yards away, reporters could hear the shouting.
Hogan dew cheers when he attacked the press-"a handful of damn reporters who think they speak for the world"-and when he told the rank-and-file that "police protection is the number one priority in county government."
But there were angry exchanges. "We're all for you doing something to show your feelings," Hogan said, "but how sympathetic are the people of Prince George's County going to be if one of their kids gets killed?"
"How sympathetic are they for Claggett's widow?" one officer shouted in reply, referring to the wife of Albert M. Claggett IV, one of the two officers Terrence Johnson was tried for killing.
"Shut up, dammit, shut up," Hogan shouted at another point as police officers taunted him. "You know, what really bothers the hell out of me about this meeting is that it shows no respect for the law."
"What bothers us is that the county administration doesn't have the backbone to stand up behind the police," one officer shouted.
When Hogan was finished, Johnson's prosecutor. Arthur A. Marshall Jr., appeared, "to answer questions," followed by Chief Rhoads. Both heard many of the same complaints that Hogan had heard.
The officers were still angry when they came back from the meeting. As they clustered in groups aroung the lodge and their cruisers, many still spoke of staying off the job.
But there was a sense of relief. "It was good for everyone to kind of let it all hang out," said Cpl. Bill Seminuk. "Hogan and Rhoads came down and met us halfway and that's all we've ever asked for.
"Everyone was uspet and I guess everyone's still upset but now they feel like someone's trying to listen. That's a start, anyway."
"There were a lot very frustrated guys here," said Sgt. Sherman Baxa. "They were angry because they can't understand. Things should be calmer now - I hope." CAPTION: Picture 1, Prince George's County police officers gather in field behind Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Upper Marlboro during protest of Johnson verdict. Photo by James A. Parcell-The Washington Post; Picture 2, An empty roll call room in the Hyattsville police substation was graphic demonstration of Prince George's County police officers walkout yesterday.