A Silver Spring civil rights group brought elected officials and residents together Monday night to discuss police interactions and respond to an officer using derogatory language during a loitering investigation last week.
The Silver Spring Justice Coalition is focusing on broader issues with community policing as incidents such as the fatal shooting of Robert White last summer and the arrest of Samir Ahmed while he helped a drunken neighbor have fueled accusations that the department is profiling minorities.
Coalition spokeswoman Carlean Ponder said while the officer’s use of the ‘n-word’ during a loitering investigation outside a White Oak McDonald’s restaurant last week was inexcusable, it was the lack of intervention by the other officers at the scene that suggests a departmentwide issue.
One of the men and a police body camera recorded images of the encounter from different vantage points.
“This officer for one should be fired,” Ponder said. “She’s not fit to serve with the Montgomery County Police Department. But aside from that, what about all the other officers who stood there and said nothing?”
The police department is conducting an internal affairs investigation of the incident and has said in a statement that the incident was “contrary to our department’s values” and it “takes all allegations of racial discrimination seriously.” The names of the officers involved in the incident and their status with the department have not been released.
The coalition is a collection of social justice organizations that joined after White’s death in 2018. Members have held three rallies and vigils since his death, advocating for changes in police practices.
Around 50 people turned out Monday night to march from the White Oak Library to the 3rd District police station in a display of support for the four men who were cited for loitering at a McDonald’s in the area.
Another 50 joined for the news conference that followed, featuring comments from County Council member At-Large Will Jawando and state Del. Jheanelle Wilkins as well as Ahmed and other residents who shared stories of negative police interactions.
Jawando met with two of the men cited at the McDonald’s, and plans to send a letter to interim police chief Russell Hamill requesting all the body camera footage be released, a full investigation of the officers involved and information about trespassing citations in the area.
“The more I learn about this case, frankly the more troubled I am about what happened,” Jawando said. “It’s bad enough that you had an officer use derogatory and racist language, but the whole interaction is one riddled with disrespect and demeaning words and phrases by the other officers that were there.”
The Council recently passed a bill authored by Jawando that increases transparency in officer-involved shootings stemming from White’s death. The legislation comes with the county engaged in a nationwide search for a new police chief.
Jawando said the “silver lining” of the White Oak incident is the recognition it has brought to the importance of transparency and community policing, a topic he expects to come up at the June 6 town hall event for public comment on the search.
“People are taking note,” Jawando said. “This is a viral national story and people are coming out and sharing their stories online and social media about interactions they’ve had with the police department here. I expect this to be front and center, it will certainly be a line of questioning I will ask.”
Charlie Wright can be reached at email@example.com