State and Montgomery County officials talked Wednesday about the pain and anger caused by racism and police brutality.
They were not sure, though, about how to fix either weighty problem and at what level — county, state or federal.
The opportunity to talk came during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Communities United Against Hate, a Montgomery County-based group that promotes the anti-hate and anti-bigotry initiatives of local advocacy groups.
Law enforcement officials and County Council members, as well as a member of the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International USA, were part of the forum. Panelists answered some curated questions that viewers submitted.
“These past few weeks have been awful,” said Brian Frosh, the attorney general of Maryland, referring to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently, George Floyd.
Arbery was shot by two white men in Georgia who chased him down in a truck while he was jogging in February, suspecting him of trespassing.
Taylor was shot by Louisville police in her Kentucky home during a no-knock raid in March.
Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held him against the pavement, using his knee, for nearly nine minutes.
“It’s not a surprise that many members of our community have lost trust in law enforcement when they see live, on videos, these events occurring,” said Frosh, who lives in Montgomery County.
Frosh said it was imperative to “act urgently” to remedy such injustices, which disproportionately affect African American men.
Marcus Jones, the chief of the Montgomery County Police Department, said it is “a disturbing time that we live in.”
“Over the past couple of weeks, I have been beyond angry. I’m sick to the core of my soul,” Jones said, referencing Floyd’s death.
Jones said there is a need for police reforms to address systemic racism and police brutality. He emphasized his commitment to fully investigate allegations of police brutality that come to his office.
He acknowledged, however, the role that police unions can have with respect to disciplining officers, citing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a part of state law.
That law, Jones said, allows officers to raise a dispute with one of his proposed disciplinary actions to a panel of police officers, which can override the chief’s decision.
Jones said the law limits his ability to enforce disciplinary measures. Despite that, he said, he would only support certain changes to it, like increasing public access to disciplinary records.
Frosh said the most important changes need to happen with legislation on the national level first.
Congressional Democrats were the first to propose police reform legislation after Floyd’s death. That bill, called the “Justice in Policing Act,” would in part tie some federal funding for state and local police departments to those departments’ implementation of anti-discrimination training. It also would create a national database of police misconduct.
Darren Popkin, Montgomery County’s sheriff, agreed with Frosh, saying most barriers to change are legislative. The “dialogues must continue until there’s actual change,” he said.
County Council Member Will Jawando said that for there to be meaningful change, there must be a “push from both sides.”
It’s important to step back from recent events and understand the role institutional racism has played in the United States since its founding, he said, because the role of policing has always been tied deeply to keeping black people in check.
“You don’t just detangle that with one bill or with one action,” Jawando said. “We’re still dealing with that legacy.”
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