The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights is reviewing a complaint that during a training session on race relations, one of its employees invoked Nazis while making a comparison between good and bad police officers.
Lt. Cindy Weisman, a member of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police Montgomery County division, said Kara Hunt, the commission’s director of education and outreach, made the comparison during a virtual training session she was leading for the Montgomery County Department of Parks held March 30 and April 1.
After hearing about the comment and looking into it, Park Police Chief Darryl McSwain wrote a memo to his staff about his findings.
“In particular, it was conveyed to me that Dr. Hunt allegedly stated that she took offense to the narrative that there are ‘good cops and bad cops’ and then went on to say ‘no one ever made the distinction between good Nazis and bad Nazis,’” McSwain wrote.
It’s unclear what the exact wording and context of Hunt’s comments was.
When asked by Bethesda Beat about the allegation that she made a comparison between police officers and Nazis, Hunt responded in an email to a reporter on April 27 that “this is false.” In another email to a follow-up question, Hunt wrote that “this did not happen. You would be publishing a false story.”
But McSwain wrote in his memo that when he spoke to Hunt on April 6 about the alleged comments, she declined to apologize and “proceeded to support her comments with additional narrative.”
McSwain wrote that he was told Hunt also said during the training session that park police “think they are the real police” as she described park police officers in a local park.
Maryland Commission on Civil Rights Executive Director Alvin Gillard told Bethesda Beat last week that the commission is conducting a review to “gain clarity” on the matter.
“We are undergoing a review to seek clarification as to what was said, the intent behind what was said and whether what was said is consistent with the values of MCCR. And based on that we’ll determine what the next step should be if any,” he said.
Gillard added: “The training itself came about as a result of the Montgomery County Department of Parks reaching out to us, asking us to provide the training of race in America, the history of race in America. And as a part of that, looking at the issues of institutional and systemic racism.
“Our ultimate goal is to provide training that will help us as a state to improve intergroup relations, civil rights and certainly it’s not our practice or intent to engage in any behavior that would be divisive or somehow move us further apart.”
McSwain, in his memo, wrote that he spoke proudly of police officers during his conversation with Hunt.
“I not only spoke about the unselfish, kind, benevolent, and courageous acts that police officers here and across the country regularly demonstrate out of a good heart, but her analogy of a Nazi generalization based on her perceived believe that a large body of people [African Americans] may have is wrong,” McSwain wrote.
“I explained that the officers I know who raised their right hand to swear an oath to protect and serve are vastly different than a group of people in World War II who decided to follow a demented man intent on the elimination of millions of innocent people based on their race/ethnicity. In addition the Park Police are in fact the ‘real police’ as we study, train, serve, and at times, bleed like any other public safety official.”
McSwain went on to write that Hunt’s response during their conversation was “unfortunate to say the least” and he won’t attend another training she leads unless he is ordered to do so.
Weisman wrote in a letter to multiple public officials on April 7 that she was the only Jewish officer in the department at the time of the training. She later told Bethesda Beat in an interview that another Jewish officer has since joined.
She wrote in her letter that she worries that Hunt’s rhetoric is “inflammatory, divisive, and not appropriate in a training session.”
“When serving as a public servant, a person can not let their personal opinions, biases, or feelings have a voice. They serve the greater good. As a police officer, I have always been taught and applied the fact that, when in uniform, I can not speak my personal feelings because I represent the government,” Weisman wrote.
“Dr. Hunt when representing the State of Maryland should not impose her bias and personal feelings in her presentations or training. By doing so, she is representing that the State of Maryland has her particular beliefs.”
Weisman wrote that Hunt “needs to be held accountable for what she taught and said.”
Weisman, a Gaithersburg resident, told Bethesda Beat last week that she sent the letter to a Montgomery County Council member, a state legislator and her department’s police union because she was concerned about Hunt’s comments and wanted someone to take action.
“I was not doing this in my official capacity [as an officer]. I was doing this as a citizen,” she said.
Weisman agreed to speak with Bethesda Beat, but declined to elaborate when asked by a reporter about the specific comments Hunt made during the training. She said she preferred to have her letter speak for itself.
Commission director hopes review clarifies Hunt’s intent
Gillard, who didn’t attend the training, said a goal of the review is to determine whether the characterization of the comment as a comparison between police officers and Nazis is accurate.
“It could have been the use of an analogy to further the conversation around oppression and how the oppressed views certain institutions based on that oppression. So, to parlay that into a direct comparison may not be accurate as far as to what took place,” he said.
Gillard said trainings about topics such as race are often difficult, but it is not common for the commission to undertake a review of one. One of the main reasons for the review, he said, is to determine the intent of Hunt’s alleged comments.
“I don’t think there can be an argument about what those folks who raised issues felt that they heard. And I think, equally, there can be no argument about the intent and what was actually said. And we have to figure out to the best of our ability what the reality was [of what was said] and build on that,” he said.
When asked whether past complaints had been made against Hunt, Gillard declined to say.
“That’s an area that I’m not going to get into. Dr. Hunt is a valued and respected member of the staff of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and we certainly respect her and her contributions and have confidence in her abilities to help promote the values of the agency,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org