Silver Spring Demonstrators Demand Answers in Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Man
Robert White’s sister, religious leaders, activists march down Colesville Road in protest
Protestors gathered in downtown Silver Spring on Sunday in response to the fatal police shooting of Robert White in June,
Scores of people demonstrated in downtown Silver Spring on Sunday in response to the recent release of county police officers’ body-camera footage from a fatal police shooting in a nearby neighborhood.
Robert White, 41, who was unarmed, died June 11 after being shot multiple times during the encounter with Montgomery County police Officer Anand Badgujar in a townhome community off of Sligo Creek Parkway. During the Demonstration for Justice in Our Backyard, advocates, religious leaders and White’s friends voiced outrage at the officer’s behavior during the several-minute interaction captured by the body-camera recording. They demanded accountability from police, more training in de-escalation tactics and an end to police shootings of unarmed black men, such as White.
“Is it illegal to walk the streets with a torn shirt?” White’s sister, Irene Thompson, said, referring to Badgujar’s explanation for why White first caught his attention. “Is it illegal to walk with your hands in your pockets? We need answers, and we need them now.”
“I keep asking myself: What was the justification for drawing a weapon on a man out for a walk?” Carlean Ponder of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition said. “Was Mr. White involved in a crime? I didn’t see that in the body-cam footage.”
After a rally at Fountain Plaza, the demonstrators marched about 1.5 miles along Colesville Road and Sligo Creek Parkway to the neighborhood where the shooting happened.
White had been walking through a neighborhood near his home when Badgujar began following him based on the suspicion that he was armed. The officer’s attorney said Badgujar first noticed White because his shirt was torn and he “abruptly moved his right hand.”
The body-camera recording shows that White grew increasingly upset during the interaction and ultimately rushed at the officer, knocking him to the ground and punching him. Badgujar fired several rounds at White during the assault. White was taken to a local hospital where he died.
After an investigation, Howard County prosecutors determined that Badgujar’s actions were justified. The Montgomery County department is now doing an internal investigation about whether the officer complied with the agency’s rules and policy.
Katie Stauss of Takoma Park Mobilization at the beginning of the rally in Fountain Plaza.
Kim Zacharias, whose husband pastors the D.C. church that White attended as a child, holds up a photo as activists and others address the crowd. Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D) of Silver Spring called for broad reforms to the criminal justice system, which she said affords police officers more due process than the average citizen. Wilkins decried the fact that police haven’t given a reasonable justification for Badgujar’s attempt to stop White as he walked. “Where is the public accountability? Where is the public participation?” she said. “We have a problem.”
“We need action” pic.twitter.com/UyRFfFLLyg
— Bethany Rodgers (@BethRodgersBB) August 5, 2018
The crowd chants shortly before beginning to march.
Demonstrators head down Colesville Road toward the neighborhood where White was shot.
Robert White’s sister, Irene Thompson: “Is it illegal to walk the streets with a torn shirt?” pic.twitter.com/i98uganouX
— Bethany Rodgers (@BethRodgersBB) August 6, 2018
White’s sister, Irene Thompson, later said she hasn’t yet watched the body-camera footage because it would be too painful. However, she said, based on what she’s heard and read, she believes her brother’s death wasn’t necessary. “The officer constantly badgered him. He followed him. I think Robert … he wanted to get away because he was so afraid of the police,” she said.
Residents in the Three Oaks Drive neighborhood hung paper lanterns in the area where White was shot, and demonstrators gathered there to close the rally in prayer.
Sunday’s demonstration ended with a candelight vigil in the neighborhood where White was shot. Credit: Bethany Rodgers.