Categories
Opinion

OPINION: Local Law Enforcement Doesn’t Know How to Read the Room

As we do the work required to make our County safer for every resident, especially our Black neighbors, we need to take a long and hard look at the system that has allowed systemic racism to continue, and in some instances, flourish in Montgomery County. One of the first things you learn when trying to be an ally, and especially an anti-racist, is the need to listen. Listening to the folks that are being impacted the most by these policies and systems is one of the first steps in rectifying the harm caused.

Earlier this week, Councilmember Tom Hucker organized a “Community Discussion on Policing” but failed to invite activists within the Black community that has been calling out systemic racism in Montgomery County for years. Worse, though, is the fact that Councilmember Hucker asked a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police to be a part of the discussion. Both MCPD Chief Marcus Jones and Torrie Cooke from the FOP were allowed to answer questions about the budget and asked for additional funds to pay for more training and hire more resources. They called for changing the current structure of the MCPD. Still, they refused to discuss the need to defund and reallocate funds from the MCPD budget and put them into areas that would benefit the community more.

I released an initial statement on my thoughts about the discussion on Twitter:

A few days later, Law Enforcement Officials announced a discussion about Law Enforcement and the Community but failed to invite any members of the community as panelists.

This is a disgrace. Montgomery County deserves better than this. These are conversations Montgomery County should have had years ago with the killing of Emmanuel Okutuga in 2011, or in 2018 after the murder of Robert White or this past May after the killing of Finan Berhe. The protests around the County and region were sparked by the murder of George Floyd-and let’s be clear; it was a murder, not an “abhorrent loss of life”-aren’t really about George Floyd. They are about the systemic racism within Montgomery County Law Enforcement agencies, like MCPD, that allows the status quo to continue.

Local activists within the Black community have been calling for the need to change for years. The Montgomery County Council only recently passed the Racial Justice and Social Equity bill. The Council also just established the Police Advisory Committee. These are all reasonable first steps, but more needs to be done.

Community organizations in Montgomery County are calling this discussion performative, and it feels like it is. Only after hundreds, maybe thousands now, of emails to defund MCPD are they starting to hint that they may be open to change. However, if you want to have an honest conversation with the community, you need to invite them to the table. Having conversations that center around Law Enforcement is not the way forward. Montgomery County needs to take to heart what members of the Black community have to say, and Law Enforcement should listen.

We aren’t going to solve the systemic racism in Montgomery County by training police more, hiring more of them, and ignoring the fact that MCPD has killed three black men in the past decade. Our way forward, and at this point, the only way is to engage with anti-racist community organizations as equal participants in these conversations.

Categories
Opinion

OPINION: Maryland’s General Assembly Needs to Act Now to Avoid Economic Nightmare

Facts are stubborn things, once quipped the bard Shakespeare. And so they are. There are two important, stubborn facts facing Marylanders today. First is that a global pandemic has reached our shores, and we are now in a state of emergency, both in Maryland and nationwide. The second is that, whether we like it or not, our citizen-legislature has less than a month to pass law before their work comes to an end for a year. 

The first fact is avoidable, but with our federal government response in disarray, likely all the same. The second one is inevitable; we do not as a state have a full-time legislature, and so must reconcile to the fact that our laws are passed and reviewed for only a short window every winter by part-time elected officials with skeletal staffs. But a third fact has yet to indeed become one: an impending economic crisis unlike anything we have seen in recent times.

Another fact: Maryland’s economy is about see a period of slow or reversed growth in the near-term, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Large retailers have already begun curtailing hours of service, and some have announced eventual plans to shut down operations completely. Small restaurants, cafes, and other service-oriented businesses will soon need to suspend operations, or involuntarily weigh lay staff to deal with decreased revenue. In turn, local business owners and their employees will have significantly less cash in their pocket, if any at all. 

What this means in a society governed by debt and where debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry, is that everyday Marylanders will face eviction, the cutoff of utilities, foreclosure, car repossession, and derogatory credit reports very, very soon for no fault of their own. The only thing standing in the way of such economic ruin is the General Assembly doing its actual job (less selfies and self-promotional social media posts, please), and passing emergency legislation to enact an automatic stay against debt collection into law. Such a stay has historic precedent in American legal tradition: it is standard with every bankruptcy petition filed with a court. But bankruptcy isn’t really an effective way to deal with the current crisis (and it ruins a person’s financial life for at least seven years). The only real solution available is for the state legislature to admit facts are indeed stubborn things, and get to work right now on emergency legislation to protect Marylanders from predatory collection schemes by creditors whose bottom line is not safeguarding our economy, but maximizing returns for their unscrupulous investors (who else buys the stock of a debt collector?). This isn’t rocket science: the Maryland General Assembly needs to protect our citizens from an economic nightmare. 

Hamza Khan is a local activist based in Potomac, Maryland.

Opinion pieces do not represent the views of MoCo Local. We pride ourselves on publishing content that represents a diverse set of ideas and backgrounds. If you would like to have a piece submitted to to our Op-Ed section, please see more details here.