DENVER (AP) – More than 200 people gathered in downtown Denver on Saturday to support law-enforcement after the slayings of two New York City officers and a series of protests nationwide against police abuse.

“We say thank you for running toward the gunshots, thank you for securing our neighborhoods,” said Larry Stevenson, a former Denver police officer who is now a pastor. “Thank you for what you do.”

Similar rallies were held or planned in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Cleveland on Saturday, and a funeral was held in New York for Rafael Ramos, one of two officers shot to death a week ago in an ambush.

PHOTO GALLERY: ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Rally In Denver

At the Denver rally, Stephanie Haley-Andrews said her husband, Daniel Andrews, a Denver police detective and peer support officer, is getting calls from colleagues asking for help. “They just feel so abandoned. That’s what called us to action,” Haley-Andrews said.

Haley-Andrews read a letter from an officer questioning for the first time whether he chose the right line of work.

“Today we stand up for the heroes who protect us,” she said. “We must never forget that officers are the most visible and vulnerable symbols of our freedom.”

Denver police Sgt. Joey Rodarte said he hoped the rally would rejuvenate the force. “It’s just been overwhelming, the continued protests we have to go help with. We’re starting to feel beat down and downtrodden,” he said.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith told the crowd that most officers use force rarely and justifiably. After the rally, he said he fears recent protests and killings will widen the divide between officers and the public.

Smith said he tries to show his deputies that they still have the community’s respect despite what they may see on the street or on the news.

Some people at the rally held signs saying “blue lives matter,” a play off the “black lives matter” chant heard at brutality protests.

The gathering in Civic Center Park Saturday morning (credit: CBS)

The gathering in Civic Center Park Saturday morning (credit: CBS)

The killings of two unarmed blacks by white police officers in Missouri and New York this summer started a series of protests. Tension increased after grand juries declined to indict the officers.

On Dec. 20, Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, were shot to death while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn, New York.

The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, then took his own life. In online postings before the ambush, he referred to the police killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and on Staten Island, New York.

LINK: Blue Lives Matter

– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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