The Silver Spring Justice Coalition, of which JUFJ is a member, views the retirement of Montgomery County Police Chief Manger as an opportunity for County Executive Marc Elrich to select a police chief who will be proactive in earning the trust of and protecting Montgomery County’s most vulnerable communities, including communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and those facing mental health challenges.
On Thursday, June 6, JUFJ members attended a public forum on policing and the selection of a new police chief with County Executive Elrich and Council Member Will Jawando. Here are reflections on that forum from two JUFJers.
“You need to address racial profiling, police brutality, lack of trust in the police, accountability, and transparency. My 13 year old son is afraid of your officers.” This anonymous quote, projected in a patchwork of other submissions to an online survey at last week’s community forum epitomizes the state of policing in Montgomery County.
In between harrowing accounts of harassment, intimidation, and brutality committed by local police, there were others reporting just the opposite. They spoke of helpfulness, prompt responses, and simply being left in peace. They utilized this juxtaposition to demonstrate the tangible inequality that exists right here in Montgomery County.
Those who have power and privilege also have a responsibility to highlight injustices and inequalities. Some members of the Jewish community spoke, and some of us were there simply to show our support and demonstrate to the County leaders who organized the event that we will not stay silent in the face of injustice. I felt a sense of pride and love for my people each time I saw someone sporting a blue JUFJ t-shirt.
I am grateful to County Council Member Jawando and County Executive Elrich for holding this forum, and for speaking to a group of young people of color about their experiences with police in a closed meeting beforehand. I hope the words and concrete suggestions provided by community members who were in attendance are reflected in local policy, hiring practices, and training curricula in the very near future.
The community forum on policing, held at Kennedy High School in Wheaton and moderated by James Stowe, the Director of the County’s Office of Human Rights, is part of the County Executive’s solicitation of community input into the hiring process for the new Chief of Police. County Executive Elrich and Councilmember Jawando shared that right before the forum they spent an hour meeting with approximately 50 high school students of color about their concerns with policing in the County. Audience members were then given two minutes each to say whatever they wanted to.
There was a nice mix of comments from individuals and from representatives of community organizations including the NAACP, the Takoma Park People of Color Collaborative, Black Ministers Conference of Montgomery County, the MD ACLU, Action in Montgomery, and a new organization to the County called Racial Justice Now. The comments focused heavily on over-policing and harassment of people of color, in particular Black residents.
Residents’ requests for the police included not cooperating with ICE, mental health training, and more community policing. Speakers also urged the County to increase their collection, publication, and use of data about policing, in particular data on racial disparities in policing. It drew applause when someone urged Executive Elrich to appoint Acting Chief Marcus Jones to the permanent Chief position. Finally, a number of individuals commented who had ongoing personal struggles with the police and who seemed to appreciate the opportunity to publicly share their stories.
County Executive Elrich outlined some of his thinking and the next steps in the process for selecting a new police chief. A timeline is available on the county website.