Montgomery County council member talks to protesters in Silver Spring

‘I am a distressed black man,’ county council member tells protesters in Silver Spring

Hundreds turn out in their cars and at Montgomery Blair High School

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Council Member Will Jawando addresses hundreds of protesters Thursday in front of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring

Photos by Dan Schere

As Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando stepped to the microphone Thursday, before hundreds of people at Montgomery Blair High School, he started with a simple message.

“My name is Will Jawando. I’m an at-large council member here in Montgomery County. And I’m a distressed black man,” he said.

Jawando was one of multiple elected officials and activists who spoke during a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Thursday in Silver Spring.

The event started with a “car parade” at White Oak Community Recreation Center. Hundreds of cars traveled from the recreation center to the county police department’s Third District station on Milestone Drive, and eventually to Blair High School.

Thursday marked the fifth straight day of protests in Montgomery County following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was pinned to the ground on May 25 by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin. A video taken by a bystander shows Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes. Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers have been charged, too. All four have been fired.

Protests have broken out in cities across the country in response to Floyd’s death over the past week.

As Jawando addressed those gathered in front of the school on Thursday, he recited names of African Americans who have died in the last few years either while or after interacting with police officers.

He then challenged those in attendance to reflect silently for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the approximate amount of time Chauvin was seen putting his knee on Floyd’s throat.

“Eight minutes and 46 seconds. If you haven’t done it, you need to do it. Reflect for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and feel how long that is. Feel how long that knee had to be on the neck, and deprive the humanity of George Floyd,” he said.

Protesters at Thursday’s event also held signs in memory of African Americans in Montgomery County that have died in the last few years after being shot by police officers.

Signs attached to cars could be seen bearing the words “Justice 4 Finan,” which referred to 30-year-old Finan Berhe, who was fatally shot by an officer last month. Berhe had charged at an officer with a knife in the White Oak area. Video of the confrontation was captured by the officer’s body camera.

One woman was holding up a sign with the letters “BLM,” the acronym for Black Lives Matter, through the sunroof of an SUV. Other messages displayed on Thursday included “Racism is a pandemic too” and “White silence is violence.”

Kalia Puphal, a 15-year-old student at James Hubert Blake High School, said in an interview from inside a Chevy Tahoe in the car protest that she heard about the protest on Instagram. She wanted to come because she feels strongly that more people need to combat racism.

“Young people need to know about this. The fact that it’s still going on is terrible,” she said.

Virgil Whitehurst, a recent University of Maryland graduate who attended the portion of the protest at Blair, said he wanted to show solidarity with the black community. This was the first protest he had been to following Floyd’s death, but he said he has been to others in support of racial justice.

“Just today, I was going through my old signs my sister and I made over the years, and I see just how easily we can take our same signs that have been used for a different protest and use them again,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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