Following the news today that Prosecutors would not be charging Sgt. David Cohen for the murder of Finan Berhe, Silver Spring Justice Coalition will be holding a protest at Veteran’s Plaza in Downtown Silver Spring, MD.
I was forwarded an email received by a resident from County Executive Marc Elrich. The original discussion involved the removal of SROs from Montgomery County Schools but moved to defunding the police. I’ve included Elrich’s full response below but wanted to touch on a few points that seem very relevant given what has transpired in the past 48 hours regarding the Montgomery County Police Department–the Council passing a ban on most no-knock warrants and prohibiting deadly use of force.
First, we continually see elected officials within Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Police Union, FOP 35, and the Montgomery County Police Department deny that our police department is built on systemic racism and enforces laws disproportionately because of it. Additionally, we also see elected officials listening to residents that are disproportionately white and therefore don’t see a need to change the police department or the systems with which they enforce laws.
We know that the County Executive received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police Union. He gladly accepted it even though he received some backlash because he also took the endorsement of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Elected officials love endorsements. They mean a lot to them. How do you think they get endorsements? It’s certainly not because they don’t plan on doing something to further the endorsees agenda.
I say all this because one thing struck me as I read through the email that was written by the County Executive. It sounds familiar. I’ve heard a lot of these same points before from Fraternal Order of Police President Torrie Cooke. You can probably go back and watch some of the forums and town halls that both Mr. Cooke and Chief Jones were on. You’d find that they are saying the same things that the County Executive has repeatedly spoken about changing the police department in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County doesn’t need to spend more money on training police officers. We don’t need to spend more money on more officers that will only enforce laws disproportionately. We cannot continue to work within the system if we are not willing to change the system. The system is not only broken, but the foundation it stands on is in complete disrepair. You cannot continue to fix a system and patch holes if the foundation is rotting.
Thank you for writing regarding defunding the police and ending the status quo. I agree with you that the status quo is not acceptable – defunding is not so simple: I can’t simply abolish the police instantly, they fulfill necessary roles and getting rid of police is not what most people want – I hear from communities, all communities, issues of not seeing police enough. We must figure out how to change policing – so that police do what they should do and not the things they shouldn’t do. And we are working on that. We reached an agreement with the police management and union about “Duty to Intervene” policy, requiring officers to intervene when they witness excessive force by other officers. We have created a civilian Assistant Police Chief, who will oversee community policing efforts and be part of efforts to de-militarize police operations, and lead social justice efforts for the police department. Months ago I convened a group to work on decriminalizing homelessness, and we now have their report, which will help guide our actions. I’m also supportive of work in the legislature to decriminalize poverty.
More broadly, the police have wound up as being the only institution available to deal with a myriad of social issues because no other institutions exist to deal with it. For example, mental health: we have few hospital beds for people with mental health issues, so the County jail, and probably all jails, are the largest mental health facilities we have – about one third of inmates have mental health issues, and I have heard from judges who felt that many of the people sentenced to jail should be getting mental health treatment, but there are not the hospital beds in the state to send them to, so they go to jail.
We find ourselves with the police being expected to respond to calls for problems that ought to be handled by social service agencies, but those agencies have never been used that way, certainly not proactively or at scale. We are having discussions now with hospitals about how we create a crisis intervention system to divert mental and behavioral health crisis away from police. We already have a robust diversion program in place to keep people out of jail. But even these programs begin with the police. If we’re going to stand up alternative services, some money may come from police savings. Right now we don’t know how much reconfiguring police changes their budgets, but our work will help us determine that and we will engage the community to help guide our decisions.
However, this still does not get to the core: identifying areas that shouldn’t be handled by police is the easier part. For me, how we police and over-policing are much bigger issues. We are launching a comprehensive review of hiring, promotion, evaluations, structure, policing practices, and the disproportionality of application of our laws. At the core of how policing is done and how the culture is developed, is how the police are trained.
Actions that we identify as over-policing are not solely the actions of rogue officers. Pretextual stops are taught. Harassing drivers to agree to a search is taught. Hassling kids over marijuana has at times been encouraged – even though State’s Attorney John McCarthy has stated that he does not prosecute personal possession of small amounts of marijuana, even over 10 grams. We see officers doing things we consider wrong, but they are doing what they were trained to do – way too often. There still is little credit, if any, given for “good” community activities and too much emphasis on other activities and statistics. Officers use the tools they have the way they’re trained to use them, and they don’t get adequate training in real de-escalation – not to mention that this training doesn’t make you adequate as a social worker or therapist. Many people wonder why so many complaints don’t result in internal discipline: it starts with the defense that “I did what I did in accordance with our policies and procedures.”
The most important thing we can do, after recruiting, lies in the training. Are police officers trained to think that they are always at war against people bent on destroying society and that they’re the last line between civilization and chaos, or are they trained to help and keep people safe? We need to be prepared to reimagine public safety: reform police policies and procedures, and enhance funding for other community needs such as health and social services. We need to do what is needed whether or not we can shift enough money from the police department to accomplish what we need to do.This is a priority for my administration
MoCo Local conducted a poll via Instagram and Twitter asking if residents think Montgomery County should institute restrictions again if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the County.
Many residents expressed concerns for indoor dining and bar activity:
Others expressed concerns that residents were not properly self-isolating, following physical distance guidelines, and not wearing masks properly or at all.
Others expressed concerns about reinstating limitations. Some argue that residents can’t afford to lose work again. Maryland’s unemployment insurance fiasco is still ongoing, even though the Governor insists that the problems were fixed. Further, the extra $600 unemployment benefits that were included in the first CARES Act have expired and it looks like Congress is willing to cut additional unemployment benefits in additional COVID-19 aid packages.
Some business owners expressed concerns that they will not be able to survive another shutdown
Multiple responses on Instagram stated that State-level leadership is needed and expressed frustration with the governor’s lack of leadership in recent weeks, as well as the inaction of the Maryland General Assembly to hold a special session.
The union local’s president, Gino Renne, said he fired Mr. Acevero because of his antagonistic attitude at a meeting to discuss the issue. But he also said Mr. Acevero’s stand complicated “our obligation to represent our members.”
MCGEO represents thousands of Montgomery County residents, including members of the Sheriff’s department. Mr. Renne and Torrie Cooke–the Fraternal Order of Police Union president–tried to convince Delegate Acevero to stop fighting for police reform in Maryland.
Mr. Renne has apparently forgotten that his union represents thousands of Black members who are disproportionately killed in the United States, 3 of which were killed in Montgomery County by local police officers.
UPDATE: Councilmember Hans Riemer had this to say about the situation
I think it is absolutely outrageous that Gino Renne and the County government employees union MCGEO fired Montgomery County Delegate Gabriel Acevero for his work to protect residents from police abuse. As an elected official, Gabe has been a courageous leader for police reform. He has proposed removing laws that shield bad police officers from accountability. It is unthinkable that MCGEO would violate Gabe’s labor rights by firing him for exercising free speech and performing his duty as a legislator, where he works for the people, not MCGEO. I know that this action doesn’t really represent the labor movement and what it stands for, but still I am deeply disappointed.
Gabriel Acevero, a lot of people in this County support your efforts on police reform. Don’t turn back.
Whitman has tried to combat racism through ‘One Whitman’, weekly 45 minute discussion-based classes aimed at promoting “inclusiveness and tolerance.” Current students have deemed it ineffective. Neither the teachers nor students take it seriously. We need to hold Whitman accountable for its wrongdoings against Black students and other students of color. For current or past Whitman students and teachers, you are loved and together we can make Whitman a better place.
These experiences detail overt racist remarks and actions and more covert forms of racism, including microaggressions, from both other students, teachers, and staff over several years.
I spoke with one former B-CC student who graduated in 2017. While they no longer attend B-CC, their experiences continue to impact them in significant ways, including anger and disappointment in fellow students. The latter failed to speak up on behalf of Black students. “Growing up around rich white kids from the B-CC while being black made me question my own identity and self-worth, and really put into perspective the serious gap between me and my classmates in so many different ways.”I spoke with one former B-CC student who graduated in 2017. While they no longer attend B-CC their experiences there continue to impact them in significant ways, including anger and disappointment in fellow students who failed to speak up on behalf of Black students. “Growing up around rich white kids from the B-CC while being black made me question my own identity and self-worth, and really put into perspective the serious gap between me and my classmates in so many different ways.”
Two common themes appear in many of these posts: 1) the lack of support from administration, and 2) the gaslighting of Black student experiences. The student I spoke to from B-CC also noted that “it didn’t help that it felt as if the school didn’t actually care about their students of color or their concerns.” They also stated that “students would act like this in hallways and the administration never did anything to combat it or even acknowledge it.” This lack of inaction “allowed for students like [redacted] to act the way they do without having to worry about penalty.”
I spoke with another student who runs the Black at Wheaton account. One of the experiences posted involved a specific incident at Wheaton with one particular teacher. The teacher reached out to the Black at Wheaton account and noted that “administration has been contacted” and continued to threaten legal action if their name continued to appear in the post. The teacher explicitly stated that “the teacher did nothing wrong but that the student twisted the teacher’s words to make a false accusation.” Black students continue to be gaslit even while highlighting their experiences of being gaslit by teachers and administration within MCPS.
Several accounts by students detail a culture of racism within Whitman’s walls, as well as several other schools within MCPS, among its white students.
Current and former students at Whitman asked the administration to address the experiences of Black students. They noted that these experiences are either dismissed through gaslighting or that the administration’s actions do not go far enough to educate teachers, staff, and non-Black students. In a letter to Whitman administration and to MCPS in general, current and former students ask for Montgomery County Public Schools desegregate.
We call on administration to create a system of accountability and education for teachers and students who commit racist acts and microaggressions in the future. Administration must prioritize the hiring of more Black teachers, staff, and administrators and continue to push Montgomery County to redistrict Whitman.
School redistricting has been a controversial issue in Montgomery County, resulting in one of the most divisive and contentious Board of Education races in Montgomery County history. Candidates ranged from pro-equity to pro-de facto segregation. One candidate and his supporters echoed racist dog whistles used during desegregation as pro-segregation slogans.
While this isn’t about school boundaries within Montgomery County needing to change, it does speak to whether Black students at majority-white schools experience a more racist and hostile environment.
# of Incidents
Number of incidents reported on @blackat… Instagram accounts as of 6/29
MoCo Local reached out to several Board of Education candidates that will be on the ballot in November, as well as the Board of Education. At the time of publishing, the Board of Education has not responded. MCPS administration has also not released a statement on the now hundreds of accounts of racism within MCPS by current and former students.
Sunil Dasgupta, a candidate for the At-Large seat on the Board of Education, states, “I am grateful for those stepping forward with their testimonies at this time and look forward to when these testimonials are no longer anonymously delivered and become even more powerful. As someone running for the Montgomery County Board of Education, it is time now to dismantle the structural conditions that uphold racism in schools and mis-educate our youth.”
Michael Fryar, a candidate for the District 2 Board of Education seat, which is currently held by Rebecca Smondrowski, notes that “Students anonymously posting on the internet means that they are too afraid or have no other venue to share their stories. We need to immediately ensure that students know how and where they can safely report incidents of bullying, harassment and threats. Whatever is in place now is clearly not working.”
Lynne Harris, a candidate for the At-Large seat on the Board of Education, writes, “There is so much to unpack about MCPS in this moment in which we are hyper-aware of systemic racism, and many are calling for us to do the intentional, substantive, hard work to become a truly anti-racist school system.” She continues to highlight that “[t]he “Black At……” Instagrams are a powerful reflection of years of experience in MCPS schools — what is horribly troubling to me is that these students either felt powerless to raise their concerns and share their experiences in real time, or they did and were patronized or ignored.”
Montgomery County needs to reckon with its systemic racism. From policing, to housing, to education, Montgomery County is not immune to it. We need to listen to Black people and their experiences. We need to stop telling them that what they experience isn’t racism, or they misunderstood. We need to protect Black students and provide them with an environment that allows them to live an authentic experience, just like white students.
This is Blaine Pierce, a Rockville High School Alum and former Marine. He is currently an officer with MCPD. He’s wearing a shirt that says “BREATHE EASY. DON’T BREAK THE LAW.” The photo is from 2015. By the time this photo was taken Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Eric Harris, Freddie Gray, and so many others had already been murdered at the hands of police.
Montgomery County is looking at how to “reimagine policing” but what do we do when officers within MCPD think the murders of Black men at the hands of law enforcement are a joke?
UPDATE: Since this article has been published I have had hack attempts on both my personal and MoCo Local accounts across all social media and have had fake or hardly used Facebook accounts that are obviously trying to intimidate me to friend my personal account. Rest assured, my accounts are secure, and I am taking steps to secure them even further.