Government Montgomery County

Elrich reluctant to make bold, progressive changes to MCPD

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

Marc Elrich in an email to resident
Montgomery County

MCGEO, local union, fires Del. Gabriel Acevero for fighting for police reform

In an absolutely stunning and gross move, MCGEO fired Del. Gabriel Acevero for fighting for police reform in Maryland, according to a report by The New York Times.

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.”

He Says a Union Fired Him Over His Push for Police Reform

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.

Montgomery County

Racism in MCPS

On June 13th, racist graffiti was found at Walt Whitman in Bethesda for the second time. Last year, two students posted a photo in blackface. Black students at Whitman had enough. They wanted real change, not performative acts, so they started an Instagram account, @blackatwhitman, to detail their experiences at Whitman.

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.

@blackatwhitman, June 14th

Black students at other schools within Montgomery County soon started their own accounts, including Black at Wheaton, Black at Blair, Black at Richard Montgomery, Black at Quince Orchard, Black at Walter Johnson, Black at Clarksburg, Black at BCC, Black at Rockville, Black at Northwood, Black at Einstein, Black at Wootton, Black at Winston Churchill, and Black at North Bethesda Middle School.

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.

Whitman SGA Racism Accountability Letter

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.

School# of Incidents
Walt Whitman139
Quince Orchard83
Walter Johnson71
Richard Montgomery42
Albert Einstein42
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.

How can we do that? We need to listen to these students and take their experiences to heart. We can listen to Black students, listen to what they need, and then give it to them. We can also start by advocating for an inclusive, anti-racist curriculum. You can read more about student-led Anti-Racism Education and Initiatives and sign the letter to the Board of Education.

Montgomery County

EXCLUSIVE: MCPD Officer Shown Wearing “Breathe Easy” t-shirt

Blaine Pierce, Rockville High School Alum and current MCPD officer, wearing “Breathe Easy Don’t Break the Law” t-shirt in 2015

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.


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.

County Council

Montgomery County Council Backs Resolution Declaring Racism Public Health Emergency

On May 30th, Councilmember Will Jawando tweeted that he would be introducing a resolution declaring Racism a public health emergency in Montgomery County following the murder of George Floyd and the unprecedented number of protests around the region.

Today, backed by the full council, the resolution was introduced. In the resolution, Jawando called out some striking disparities between Black and White residents of Montgomery County.

Compared to White residents, Black residents experience dramatically higher rates of unemployment (7.5% v. 3.3%), poverty (11.2% v. 4.0%), dropout (6.3% v. 2.1%); and lower rates of homeownership (42.5% v. 73.2%), college attainment (44% v. 65%), and annual household incomes ($73,000 v. $119,000). Further, Black residents are twice as likely as their share of County residents to be arrested (43.9% v. 19.8%).

As part of the Resolution, the Council would commit to understand how racism has influenced previous legislative work and work towards creating new policies that would work to remedy the harm.

Read the entire Resolution.


See statements below from Councilmembers Will Jawando, Nancy Navarro, and Gabe Albornoz.